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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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In "Still I Rise," what does "out of the huts of history's shame" (line 32) mean?

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In order to determine the meaning of this line, we must first look at the following line for more information. 

Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise

By looking at the second line "Up from a past that's rooted in pain" we can see that the author is referring to something painful that has happened in the past. Looking at the line in question, the author refers to the "history's shame."  This suggests that she is speaking of an overarching "shame" as opposed to something personal, because this "shame" belongs not just to her, but to all of history.  

Here we must take a moment to consider the author and the context of the rest of the poem.  Maya Angelou is an African American woman born in 1928 who grew up in the time of legal racial segregation and discrimination. It is very likely therefore that her grandparents, people that she knew and spoke to daily had actually spent some time as enslaved persons before the end of slavery in 1865. Knowing that, one could safely deduce that the line "history's shame" refers to American Slavery, in which enslaved black peoples in this country were bought, sold, raped, murdered and exploited for over two-hundred years, "a past that's rooted in pain".  

The "huts" that the author describes are the slave quarters that enslaved black people were forced to live in during American Slavery.  These huts were usually small, dark, damp and poorly constructed with only one room.  

Applying this knowledge to the line itself then, would lead us to understand that according to the author, while she herself may have never been a slave, as a descendant of those who survived American Slavery and living in one of those huts, she is coming out of that past and rising to become something greater thanks to their sacrifice.


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