What are the themes of the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou?

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the autobiography of Maya Angelou. It was first published in 1969. Maya Angelou was an American writer. She describes her youth in the 1930s and the 1940s, growing up as a black girl in America.

One of the main themes in this autobiography is racism. Sadly, Maya has been influenced a great deal by racism when she grew up. For example, she keeps thinking of herself as ugly, as she hasn’t got the blond hair that she considers to be beautiful. She dreams how wonderful it would be if “one day (she) woke out of (her) black ugly dream, and (her) real hair, which was long and blonde, would take the place of the kinky mass.” This clearly shows how she considers herself as less beautiful because of her racial background.

Furthermore, white people frequently refer to black people using offensive wording. For example, Annie is told that “a crazy nigger assaulted a white lady today.” However, Maya does not allow racism to dictate her life. In San Francisco, she decides that she wants to become a streetcar driver. Despite her mother’s reservations—she explains to Maya that it is unlikely to get a job as a streetcar driver if you are black—Maya goes ahead with her plan. And indeed, her perseverance pays off: “(she) was hired as the first Negro on the San Francisco streetcars.”

Another theme in this book is rootlessness. Maya doesn’t have a proper home, as she is moved around a lot during her years of growing up. She says she had a “sense of not belonging.” She feels rootless and without the emotional security of a proper home. In San Francisco, however, this begins to change, and Maya finally begins to feel a sense of belonging: “I saw myself as part of something.”

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