For Maya Angelou, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the American dream was somewhere over the bridge in the white part of town. Through her keen perception and her probing insight into her character Marguerite Johnson, she sees reality in all its beauty and ugliness. Eventually, Marguerite comes to terms with the fact that she is forever black and that she can succeed in a world filled with prejudice. The best example of this is her persistence in becoming the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. She has learned to outwit her tormentors, who include snobby whites, pretentious blacks, and most of the men she encounters along the difficult path of growing up.
Coming of Age
Along the way, Marguerite has many mentors to guide her in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings— her grandmother Annie Henderson, Mrs. Flowers, her mother Vivian Baxter Johnson, and her high-school teacher, Miss Kirwin. All her guides are strong women who have preceded her and have survived the similar trials of youth that she is going through. Angelou's portrayal of black males is quite negative; most of the male characters in the book are the weak links in the chain toward her success. It thus becomes a feminist manifesto as well as the story of a shy and awkward black child who blossoms into an assured and self-confident young woman. Writes Angelou, "The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable...
(The entire section is 948 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!