Book Review: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

There are a multitude of black mothers I am indebted but I didn’t fully realize it until I read “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. There is a lineage of black mothers who bore the scars of racism, injustice and indignity and despite those scars these women stood firm. The mother who birthed my dad, the woman (his grandmother) who raised him after his mom passed, the mother of my wife and her mother. The line runs deep of women who braved their circumstances and stood triumphant. This is my little and perhaps pathetic expression of gratitude for all you’ve endured.

Angelou’s prose reads clearly like spring water or like having a conversation with a loved one and it is in this tone she reveals her story to the reader. No event is out of place as each point of her life, her childhood in the south, moving to California, her rape and etc. were folded into the narrative to understand the young Maya Angelou. She exceeded the narrative that was self-focused and explored the environments she was raised in and the experiences of her dear ones. All this was collapsing into an ending which the reader could’ve never predicted, even though the narrative suggests it would happen.

Successful drama is uniquely rare. More often attempts at drama delve into melodrama and forced themes. Instead Angelou controls it bravely. It is well measured and doesn’t ever toe the line of melodrama even when speaking of childhood drama. It is an impressive feat that demands a close eye to study.

“The city [San Francisco] became for me the ideal of what I wanted to be as a grownup. Friendly but never gushing, cool but not frigid or distant, distinguished without the awful stiffness.”

Although the San Francisco she speaks about might be gone there is a sentiment here which many might identify. We want to live in places that either embody ourselves or our aspirations of becoming. It is entirely possible that we fail on our quest of becoming what we see in the city and it is more likely that we will find more of the same problem where ever we move to, but though hope’s persistence that we try anyway.

“The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance. “

The caged bird sings because it has grown formidable in its confines. It has little knowledge of freedom and still it sings because within the captivity it has found strength. I would like to wager that the caged bird might have even found a slice of happiness of its own.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou”

  1. I think I need to reread this book and possibly this whole series. I read it when I was in school at around 15 years old so I didn’t fully understand everything in it. I’m sure if I read it now I’ll get more out of it than I did then.

    Liked by 1 person

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