Sample Essay Outlines

The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help get you started.

Topic #1
Marguerite accomplished many things in the short time Angelou records for us. Which accomplishments do you think are most meaningful to her? Explain each and why it was important.

I. Thesis Statement: Marguerite had many accomplishments in the 16 years recorded in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Three of them are very important: securing a job as a conductorette, graduating from high school, and giving birth.

II. Securing a job as conductorette
A. Was “first Negro on the San Francisco streetcar”
B. Had wanted job and had worked hard to get it
C. Felt had gone against the “system” and won
D. Had controlled her own fate

III. Graduating from high school
A. Had been in many different schools
B. Had a good record
C. Had managed to graduate when pregnant and keep it a secret
D. An achievement—especially for a Black girl at that time in history

IV. Giving birth to baby
A. Had kept it a secret
B. Had finished school
C. Referred to it as a virgin pregnancy
D. Later would say best thing that ever happened to her

Topic #2
Contrast Bailey Johnson, Sr.’s wife (Vivian Baxter Johnson) and his mistress Dolores Stockland. Are they alike in any way? Explain.


(The entire section is 655 words.)