I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou presents a message of hope. Its purpose is two-fold. By writing the autobiographical narrative in the style of a fictional novel, Angelou writes a story that others can relate to, and is able to give a voice, not only to herself, but to others who suffer atrocities while growing up, and who face endemic racial prejudice.
Angelou chronicles the trials and tribulations of her life from early childhood through her adolescence when she takes on adult roles. Using her unique style of writing, she takes the reader from her early childhood to her late teen years.
When she is a toddler her mother sent her, along with her brother, to live with her grandmother, who is an exemplary role model. It is through her that Marguerite grows to value education, to see the abilities of a strong, influential Black woman, and to examine the human condition of segregation. Although she is young, she presents a thoughtful, introspective tone at this time of her life.
When she is a young, impressionable girl, she and her brother are sent back to her mother’s family. The novel’s tone changes as this is a dark period of abuse, racism, and neglect for the children and the family. During this portion of her life, Marguerite suffers greatly, and chooses to stop speaking for a time.
Ms. Angelou changes the mood of the story a number of times as the young Marguerite experiences abuse, racism and segregation. Yet, when she moves to California to be with her mother, she thrives and prospers in her education, which includes the arts which she is so fond of. She experiences life within a homeless community that includes many races, she fights to become the first Black female streetcar driver, and finally, she becomes a mother.
The young girl in the story embodies Ms. Angelou’s metaphor of the caged bird that never gives up its song. Her life is filled with contradictions, atrocities, and oppression, which take away her voice for a time, until she is coaxed out of her “cage” and finds her voice again. She uses that voice to “sing” for herself and for others who have suffered. Her story is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.