What insights into life of the American rural Black community does the author provide?
First and foremost, this book paints a realistic picture of the hardships (prejudice and hatred, lack of money and opportunity, fear and insecurity) that filled the lives of African AMERICANS in the 30s and 40. Certainly, other books like To Kill a Mockingbird, demonstrated prejudice, class systems, and the struggles of all Americans through the time of the Great Depression, but I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was one of the first (and is still one of the best) books about this time period written from the autobiographical perspective of both an African American, and a woman.
Because of this - Angelou is able to really show the struggles of growing up as a little Black girl in America but also the triumphs and hope present as a result of strong relationships within families and the Black community. Throughout the book, Angelou highlights the strong women in her life - starting with her own mother, and moving to others like Mrs. Flowers and Louise Kendricks.
I think the most important message spoken through this novel is the overcoming of adversity through inner strength and outer support. According to this novel, the rural black community is quite unlike the rural white community, in that it possesses soul. Because of the amount of suffering and oppression each family has experienced (generationally), it is as if a little bit more strength is passed down to each generation - and children are brought up to know and understand that struggles and hardship can and will result in hope if they fight hard enough. More than just a coming-of-age autobiography - this book is really a tribute to that sense of hope and achievement of success.