I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Discuss the significance of the title "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in the context of the entire poem.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Maya Angelou's famous poem "Caged Bird," she contrasts the life of a free, independent bird with that of an oppressed and manacled caged bird. The title corresponds to the life of the imprisoned bird, whose wings have been clipped and feet have been tied to prevent it from living a fulfilling life. The caged bird symbolically represents the plight of marginalized, mistreated African Americans, who suffer from racial discrimination, injustice, and oppression in the United States. Despite the oppressed life of the caged bird, the bird demonstrates its resolve and courage in the face of adversity by singing at the top of its lungs. The caged bird's tune is described as being "fearful," and Maya writes that he "shouts on a nightmare scream." However, the caged bird's song of freedom is heard on the "distant hill" and is the bird's way of expressing its difficult emotions. Notably, the caged bird's harsh environment does not affect its integrity, and the confined bird transcends its unfortunate situation by singing. Maya is metaphorically illustrating how oppressed African Americans exercise their creativity and rely on their inner strength to alleviate their suffering while simultaneously preserving hope for a better future.

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beateach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Maya Angelou wrote an autobiographical book entitled I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsThe title of the poem you are referring to is “Caged Bird.”

The title of the poem, “Caged Bird” is significant because the poem compares the lives of the bird who lives freely, and the one who is confined to a cage. Both birds are symbolic of the groups of people they represent.

The free bird is able to make choices based on a whim while the caged bird has to eke out an existence. The free bird represents those people and races who are free to live life unencumbered by the chains of racism and oppression. The caged bird is shackled and imprisoned by society, but it chooses to overcome those obstacles by singing. In choosing the title, “Caged Bird,” Angelou puts the focus on the tenacity and perseverance of those who are victims of bias and racism. Instead of allowing the “cage” to break their spirit, they chose to rise above their obstacles.

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