How is the theme of self-awareness shown in the poem "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of self-awareness is shown in the poem "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou in that the poet highlights how this bird has a rage within itself. This rage is because this caged bird senses it is missing out on a freedom that other birds and living creatures know. This bird “…stalks down his narrow cage.”  This “stalking” alludes to the fact that the bird is prowling for release from his restricted way of life.


This bird is self-aware that it is living in an unnatural environment. To this caged bird the bars of the cage are “bars of rage.” In addition, self-awareness is conveyed by the fact that this bird makes a bold effort to sing. Because its wings and feet are restricted (due to clipping and tying), its only recourse to let anyone know of its desire to be free is to sing.


The bird sings to let anyone who will listen know that it is straining for freedom. Self-awareness here (the bird understanding its plight) is shown by the fact that the bird longs for something that is unknown. It desires this unknown that is out there because it senses that the unknown is better than being caged and, in essence, a slave to its man-made environment, where it cannot spread its wings and soar.


The reader can extend this feeling of being ‘caged in’ to the human condition as well. Many people feel trapped in their respective life situations. They long to be free of poverty, sickness, addictions, dead-end jobs, bad relationships, destructive behavior and more. Every day, many people are crying out, through their words and actions, for some kind of release from their burdensome stations in life, where they feel caged and unable to realize their dreams. They are self-aware, as this bird is, that there is a better way of life that must be fought for, even though this better way of living can be elusive.