What is the meaning of "bars of rage" mentioned in the second stanza?

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Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird” reflects the anguish of a divided society, as she compares the free bird, who can do anything he pleases, with the caged bird, who can only dream of happiness as he sits in his prison.

The free bird “leaps / on the...

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Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird” reflects the anguish of a divided society, as she compares the free bird, who can do anything he pleases, with the caged bird, who can only dream of happiness as he sits in his prison.

The free bird “leaps / on the back of the wind” as he travels in infinite space. He has the freedom to go anywhere and to do anything. His possibilities are endless, so he “names the sky his own.” He thinks of traveling with the breeze and of the “fat worms” of opportunity he has only to pluck from the grass. Staying under the warmth of the sun, he will always have chances to achieve his dreams.

In contrast, the caged bird sits in his cage, knowing the free bird flies and that he cannot follow. He “stalks / down his narrow cage” because he is angry at his helplessness. He has no opportunity to see beyond “his bars of rage.” Angelou attributes the anger to the bars of the cage, but it is really that of the caged bird. His rage follows because he feels trapped and sees no way out of his situation. His wings are clipped, so he can only sing about the freedom he so desperately desires. He knows he should be out there flying in freedom instead of standing “on the grave of dreams.” He has given up his goals and dreams, and only “his shadow shouts” now.

Angelou depicts the situation that Black Americans face in society; however, her poem can also reflect all types of oppression. By juxtaposing the free and caged birds, she clearly depicts the unfairness and cruelty of oppression. She pleads with her audience to understand and to correct the wrongs.

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The poem "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou is filled with symbolism that conjures feelings of freedom and confinement.  The juxtaposition of the stanzas creates a stark contrast between the "free bird" and the "caged bird."  After the initial stanza's description of the way in which a free bird "floats downstream" effortlessly "on the back of the wind," the second stanza presents the perspective of the caged bird:

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.

Here the "bars of rage" are symbolic of the bird's confinement.  Whereas the free bird was lifted and supported on the wind, the caged bird is trapped, but not necessarily by an outside force.  The bird "can seldom see through / his bars of rage," which suggests that the cage is the bird's own creation.  They are "his" bars of rage, that he cannot see through.  In this way the bars are a metaphor for the anger that traps the bird and keeps it from being free.  This anger could be due to an outside force, such as sexism, racism, or another type of oppression, but the poem itself lets us understand that no matter what outside forces are acting upon the bird, the bars around it are of the bird's own making.

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