What are the fears of the caged bird? Answer with reference to Maya Angelou's poem "Caged Bird."  

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perfectsilence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fears of the caged bird are evoked via the refrain that Maya Angelou utilizes as the third and sixth stanzas of her poem:

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The bird is said to sing "with a fearful trill." Trill is defined as "a quavering or vibratory sound, especially a rapid alternation of sung or played notes." The definition helps the reader to understand that the bird's melody quavers, suggesting that the note is not definite and that there is a certain level of uncertainty within its song. While this can be seen as symbolizing the bird's uncertainty that it will ever achieve the freedom it so desires, the fact that the bird is confined by its own "bars of rage" also suggests that even if/when freedom is truly achieved, the bird may never be able to be free of the animosity built up as a result of its oppression. Further, the fear within the trill can represent the "things unknown," the uncertainty that will accompany true freedom. While welcomed, freedom is foreign and unfamiliar to the bird, which makes it scary. If freedom is gained, the bird may be simply exchanging one type of fear for another. The bird is then fearful of never gaining true freedom on a number of levels: physical, mental, and spiritual.
Vikash Lata eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "caged bird" stands for none other than the oppressed blacks. Devoid of liberty and basic human rights, the blacks have led hellish lives, full of pains and sufferings, for centuries. Its song of freedom demonstrates the rage and optimism of the blacks that toughen them to endure.

Although the caged bird “sings of freedom,” she sings “with a fearful trill.

The dream of liberty has been seen by the blacks for ages. The poet’s uncountable ancestors have spent their whole lives hoping to see the light of freedom. This discomforting sense of undergoing persecution for years is well evoked in the following lines:

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   

The blacks' dream of liberty is very old. Despite their continued struggle, they have suffered defeat and frustrations repeatedly.

Thus, the caged bird’s fear is about the uncertainty of achieving freedom in the future. Its fears reflect those of the blacks who no more wish to go through the pains of racism, discrimination and bestial treatment at the hands of the whites. The blacks are scared of the darkness hanging over the lives of their offspring.

The word “nightmare” is suggestive of the blacks’ unspeakable suffering and “scream” reflects their expression of agony.