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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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What does "his bars of rage" imply in Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"?

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In the poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, Angelou contrasts the caged bird with the free bird. In doing this, she emphasizes the plight of the bird in the cage.

The caged bird is held by "bars of rage." This imprisonment goes deeper than simply putting the bird in a cage, for "his wings are clipped and his feet are tied." This bird is not only caged but also physically bound. His confinement is all invasive and takes any possibility of freedom away from him. The bird's only solace is that he can still sing out. Even though imprisoned, the bird cannot be silenced. Therefore, the "bars of rage" are the bird's pent up frustration and anger at his situation.

On the other hand, the free bird can "claim the sky" (7); he can achieve anything he desires and go wherever he pleases. However, the caged bird "stands on the grave of dreams" (27). Even though the caged bird's dreams are limited because of his confinement, he will still be heard. Both birds become a metaphor for people who are free contrasted to those who are not free. This metaphor lends itself to the themes of oppression, racism, and abuse. Therefore, it is easy to understand why the caged bird rages at the bars of injustice.

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In order to determine the meaning of the line “his bars of rage” in Maya Angelou’s poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” it may be helpful to look at the whole stanza of the poem.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and  

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The poet is creating the image of a bird held in a barred cage which is in opposition to a bird flying free that she describes in the first stanza. The bird is “stalking” around in that cage which connotes anger and frustration. It is blinded by that “rage” and understands that there is no escape from its bars of incarceration. The bird cannot visualize what the free bird can because it is caged with pent up anger. The “bars of rage” are a metaphor for the feelings of people who are bound by slavery, ignorance, and prejudice. Ms. Angelou goes on to explain that the bird cannot obtain its freedom but it chooses to express itself joyously implying that although it maybe be angry and unable to break those bonds, it will not be silenced.

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