What is the author's theory about peoples' belief in divine intervention in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is one section of the novel where Momma is talking to one of her customers that comes into the store. Momma is a woman of faith, and her conversations often end with phrases such as “Bless the Lord,” and “Lord willing.” This shows that she acknowledges God’s control over her life and the things that happen to her are allowed by God. Marguerite (the young Maya) is listening to this exchange and she comments:

“People whose history and future were threatened each day by extinction considered that it was only by divine intervention that they were able to live at all. I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed.”

This means that in Maya’s view, the poor people are more reliant on God than the rich because they see more of a need for his intervention. When people grow rich, they somehow think that it is their doing, not God’s. She is saying that poor people readily acknowledge their dependence on God, but when people become “more affluent” they believe that they themselves are responsible for their success, not God.

In this beautiful tale of survival, Momma continually shows how she depends on God to cope with life. For example, when she is “mooned” by some girls, she sings a hymn, showing that God has control over her life, not them. The Stamps revival meetings show how God had the power to intervene in the lives of the Blacks and give them the strength to carry on in an oppressive life. While Maya often does not understand this “blind faith” and is critical of it in her autobiography, as she grows up herself and faces her own challenges, her ultimate survival illustrates that somehow Momma’s faith has influenced her in more ways than she thought.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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