I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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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.

Outline
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.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: Vivian Baxter Johnson and Dolores Stockland are more different than alike. They are alike in that both were probably once in love with Bailey, Sr., and that both live in California. They were different in that one is very inhibited and the other is not; one is older than the other; one is honest about who she is; one is hostile to Marguerite.

II. Differences
A. Dolores younger than Vivian
B. Dolores not married to Bailey, Sr.
C. Dolores pretending to be what she is not
D. Dolores’s mouth taut
E. Dolores hostile toward Marguerite

III. Similarities
A. Both probably once attracted by Bailey, Sr.
B. Both in California

Topic #3
Were there any long-range effects of the attack on Marguerite by Mr. Freeman? Explain your answer.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: There were several long-range effects of the rape on Marguerite, including her muteness, having her childhood taken away, her embarrassment, her injury, and her fear of Bailey’s sexual experiments.

II. Muteness
A. Refused to talk, except to Bailey, Jr
B. Did not talk for several years

III. Childhood taken away
A. Felt old
B. Did not feel...

(The entire section is 655 words.)