Critical Context (Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)
Though each of her autobiographies is a discrete volume, telling its own story, it is useful to look at Maya Angelou’s self-portraits as a kind of multivolumed autobiography. Beginning with perhaps the most famous memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, these self-portraits are related by their focus upon the person Maya Angelou, a Renaissance woman of the twentieth century. In addition to the composite portrait the autobiographies produce, the books demonstrate a curious combination of prose and poetry, fact and fiction, story and storyteller.
Because of these permutations, it is challenging to evaluate All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes as a literary work. One of the problems with such an evaluation is the question of authorial voice and intention. At times the storyteller sounds like a poet, gently singing of the beauties of Africa and of the soul’s journey to find itself. At other times, the narrator sounds like a sociologist, analyzing behavioral patterns of a people carrying its “skeletons of old despair like necklaces.” At still other times, the autobiographer sounds like a novelist or a dramatist, setting up a dialogue that might be included in a fictional work or performed onstage. How, then, to critique this autobiography, a literary form which, by definition, is the biography of a person narrated by himself or herself? The answer is probably to loosen the definition of autobiography, enlarge the notion of...
(The entire section is 507 words.)