Maya Angelou

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Does the poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" conveys a social theme?

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danijo866 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The theme of racism that the previous educator describes is further exemplified in the different perspectives of the caged bird and the free bird. In the fourth stanza the attitude of the free bird is described as follows:

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

The free bird here represents the experiences of white people. White people, free birds, are so preoccupied by the luxuries of their freedom that they don't see the plight of the birds in cages. They have the privilege to focus on their future, on "another breeze." They have the good fortune to think of the surplus to which they have access, "the fat worms" that are theirs to consume. They have the clout to claim the sky. Free birds are so free that they don't see their brothers and sisters who are caged, with "wings that are clipped and feet that are tied."
This is a commentary on the blindness of white people to the suffering of their black brothers and sisters. She suggests that white people cannot see it because they don't have the space in their perspectives to allow for it, much as the free bird only has his personal considerations.

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This poem does have a social aspect because it deals primarily with the theme of racism—specifically, the discrimination experienced by African Americans, like Angelou herself.

Angelou demonstrates this clearly through the character of the caged bird. This bird functions as a metaphor for African Americans. The bird's "clipped wings," for example, symbolize the oppression felt by African Americans in a predominantly white society. Moreover, the "bars of rage" symbolize the anger and frustration felt by African Americans, who are powerless to change the situation.

Angelou's message to African Americans, however, is one of hope. By finishing the poem with the image of "freedom," Angelou argues that no matter how much oppression is experienced, racism cannot kill the desire for a better life and a fairer, more equal society.

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