I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Analysis

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou brings to life her experiences in mid-twentieth century United States. To most young readers, her experiences will seem harsh: She was sent away by her parents at the age of three, strictly reared by her paternal grandmother, raped by her mother’s boyfriend, injured by her father’s girlfriend in a fight, hid in a junkyard for a month, and gave birth to a child while she was unmarried and still a teenager herself. If the book contained only this sort of harshness, then young readers would come away with nothing more than a deep grief over the injustices of racism, of adult irresponsibility, and of poverty. Such is not the case.

Angelou’s eloquent autobiography is a testimony to the human spirit, to her personal resilience, and to the power of African-American people. These affirmations are woven through the chapters but are sharply visible in her account of her eighth-grade graduation in Stamps, Arkansas, in 1940. (This sketch is often included in anthologies of essays under the title “Graduation.”) In this narrative, Angelou sets the scene with a description of the excitement surrounding eighth-grade graduation: Momma made her a butter-yellow piqué dress, with crocheted cuffs and a pointy crocheted collar; Uncle Willie and Momma closed the Store; the school band played; and the school principal spoke. Not until the heart of the graduation ceremony did the festive mood change. Then, the white speaker,...

(The entire section is 478 words.)