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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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Why does Maya Angelou's tone turn harsh while describing the eighth graduation in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

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The eighth grade graduation in Stamps, Arkansas is a big deal to the black community, but the white speaker, Mr. Edward Donleavy, manages to quell the festive atmosphere fairly quickly with his comments about new equipment for the white science lab and feeble attempts to make amends by commenting on his high hopes for the future of the black athletes among the graduates, likening them to Jesse Owens.  Maya feels shame and sadness at hearing these demeaning comments, implying as they do that blacks cannot achieve academic success, only athletic prowess.  She ruminates on the idea that she will never have any real possibilities, dreams, or control over her life, and even goes so far as to wish Christopher Columbus had never found the New World.  Fortunately, the next speaker is able to undo some of the damage, and Maya's mood and spirits begin to lift. 

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