How do Maya Angelou's works I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Mom & Me & Mom reflect the movement with which she is most closely related?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Angelou is known for merging genres.  In both I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou combines autobiography and the historical context of different conditions of marginalization.  The need to illuminate social consciousness through the lens of subjectivity characterizes both works.

In Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou reflects subjectivity merged with a social consciousness.  Angelou takes this style and applies it to the relationship between mothers and daughters.  The identities of women of color are examined:

"You see, baby, you have to protect yourself. If you don’t protect yourself, you look like a fool asking somebody else to protect you.” I thought about that for a second. She was right. A woman needs to support herself before she asks anyone else to support her.” 

Identity is forged on the levels of race, age, and gender.  In Mom & Me & Mom Angelou uses autobiography as a vehicle to explore larger issues of social and historical consciousness:  "She manages to fully reveal that national sore without picking at it, a neat trick that...requires considerable restraint and her own steely goodwill."  Angelou understands that this "national sore" is the silencing of voice.  By using contrasts between younger women of color and those who preceded them, Angelou is able to universalize the personal.  Different valences of voice are brought out on personal and social levels.

The need to externalize the internal is a major element in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  In this setting, Angelou is focused on the construction of racial identity.  The need to evoke voice, to hear that which is silent, gives rise to the autobiographical style she employs:  "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."   Angelou's style of telling the "untold story" is reflective of the prejudice and tolerance theme that dominates the work.  As in Mom & Me & Mom, Angelou uses this autobiographical style as a way to focus on the individual narrative placed within a larger social and historical construction.  Angelou is closely associated with this style, and both works demonstrate her commitment to it.

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