The reasons listed by the censors for banning I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings do not explain the widespread controversy around the novel. There is reason to believe that the question of the novel is in its poignant portrayal of race relations. This explains why the novel has been most controversial in the South, where racial tension is historically worst, and where the novel is partially set. Therefore, understanding the blatant and subtle effects of racism on the young Marguerite help explain the censorship controversy, and the person she became.
One of the earliest examples of race relations in the book symbolizes the strict dichotomy of opportunity for black and white children. On the second page, Marguerite explains how she wished that she would wake up in a white world, with blond hair, blue eyes, and she would shudder from the nightmare of being black. Thus, from the beginning of the book, race relations were one of the major themes. Maya Angelou also shows the effect of oppression on the black people, and that impact on her as a child. One early example occurred when the po’ white trash children confronted Mama in front of the store.
They were represented as clownish, dirty, and rather silly. On the other hand, Mama simply stood like a rock and sang the Gospel. Her beauty of soul versus their disgusting antics creates a powerful scene about the nature of the oppressed and the oppressor. Marguerite, meanwhile, lies crouched behind the screen in agony at the inability of her class to command respect simply because of their color. Then, as the scene progresses, she understands that in spite of the disparity of power between the po’white trash and Mama, Mama has won. The dichotomy of power is also shown later in the book when Maya attends her eighth grade graduation ceremony.
The disparaging remarks pertaining to white versus black ability filled Marguerite with despair. When the young boy giving the commencement address turned and sang the black anthem, it changed that despair to hope. It showed her the ability of her race, and in turn her species, to survive and overcome incredible odds. It is examples such as these that impact Marguerite and shape the woman she was the become. One can see the seeds of this woman in many of the examples of race relations in the novel. For example, when Marguerite works as a maid in a white house, her employers change her name for their convenience.
After being called Mary, she determines that she must leave this employment. Her inability to adapt to this situation which was considered normal, shows the rigidity of character which was more fully developed later in her life. Another example of the seeds of who she became occurred when the revival came to Stamps. Here, Marguerite makes the observation that it had occurred to her that her race is masochistic. She thought that not only were they condemned to live the worst lives, but they liked it like that. In this example, Marguerite shows the frustration she had with her circumstances, and with life for Southern Blacks.
When considering the amount of persuasive power Maya Angelou has it is not surprising that the book has had a great many detractors. The depiction of hatred between the races can not be comfortable for Southern whites, whom the novel implicitly criticizes. From subtle racism like the inability for Maya to become a streetcar conductor, to more blatant examples like the doctor’s statement, “My policy is that I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s,” the novel shows the evilness in segregation and prejudice. I know why the caged bird sings. It is interesting to note the poetical nature of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
You truly sees the events through the eyes of a young girl. For example, the molestation scenes are depicted simply and innocently, which bothers one’s consciousness. Another aspect of the book is the way in which the chapters are laid out. At the beginning of each chapter, Maya introduces a topic, discusses it, and then provides resolution. Each chapter is a short story by itself, but they also relate together. The chapters build on each other, and the end provides resolution to the common parts of the book. The end, however, also is a new beginning for Marguerite. It is the perfect ending to a profound and moving novel.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first in a series of autobiographies by Maya Angloue. The book describes her coming of age in the 1930s in rural, segregated Stamps, Arkansas. Angelou grew up in a broken home; her parents divorced when she was only three years old. She and her older brother Baily were raised by Annie henderson, their paternal grandmother. Beyond the familial issues she had to deal with as a child, Angelou came face to face with sexism and a deep-seated Southern racism that manifested itself in wearying daily indignities and terrifying lynch mobs.
When Angelou was eight, she and Bailey went to live with their mother Vivian St. Louis. Vivian’s boyfriend, Mr freeman sexually molested and raped Angelou. After it became clear what had happened, Mr. Freeman was violently murdered, probably at the hands of Angelou’s family’s underground criminal associates. In the aftermath of these events, Angelou endured the guilt and shame of having been sexually abused, while simultaneously suffering from the belief that she was responsible for Mr. Freeman’s horrible death because she had denied in court that he had molested her prior to the rape.
As a consequence, she stopped speaking to everyone except Bailey. Her mother’s family accepted her silence at first, but they later became frustrated and angry. Angelou and Bailey returned to Stamps to live with their grandmother where they remained until Angelou was thirteen years old. The eight years after the rape proved Angelou a survivor, not a victim, of her circumstances. After she moved to San Francisco to live with Vivian, she slowly emerged from her silence to become a bold young woman who refused to accept Her fathers careless habit of playing her off his girlfriend,Dorles.
When the hostility between Dolores and Angelou reached the breaking point, Angelou chose to spend the last month of her summer vacation living with a group of Homeless teenagers in a junkyard. She defied racist hiring policies in wartime San Francisco at age fifteen. At sixteen, she hid a pregnancy from her mother and step-father for eight months and succeeded in graduating from High school. Main characters Grandfather Baxter – Grandfather Baxter was Vivians father. He and Grandmother had a happy marriage. He encouraged his sons to be fierce.
Grandmother Baxter – Grandmother Baxter was Vivians mother. She and Grandmother had a happy marriage. She was mostly white, and she was raised by a German family. She retained a German accent until her death. In St. Louis, she had pull with the police and the leaders of organized crime. Vivian Baxter – Vivian Baxter was Baily and Angloue’s mother. Although she had a nursing degree, she earned most of her money working in gambling parlors or by gambling herself. She and Momma, although different in their values, were both strong women.
Vivian didn’t condemn Angelou for her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her boyfriend, Mr. freeman, sexually molested and raped Angelou when she was eight. Bootsie, Juan – Bootsie and Juan were members of a group of Mexican, white, and black homeless teenagers with whom Angelou lived for a month in a California junkyard. Angelou was readily accepted into their group as long as she followed their rules. It was Angelou’s first introduction to ready tolerance, and it greatly influenced her life. All the teenagers earned money, which Bootsie kept, and it was used communally.
During her last weekend with them, Angelou and Juan won second prize in a dancing contest. Daddy Clidell – Daddy Clidell married Vivian after Baily and Angelouwent to live with her in California. He was a successful businessman despite his lack of education. He was the only real father Angelou knew. He introduced her to his con man friendsand taught her how to play poker. Mrs. Viola Cullinan – Mrs. Viola Cullinan was Angelous first employer. She was a Southern white woman in Stamps, and, at the age of ten, Angelou took a job working in her kitchen.
Angelou felt sorry for her because she couldn’t have children, especially because Mr. Cullinan had two beautiful daughters with a black woman. At the suggestion of one of her friends, Mrs. Cullinan started calling Angelou “Mary” because “Margaret” was too long. Margaret was not even Angelou’s name anyway. Her presumption infuriated Angelou, but she knew Mammawouldn’t allow her to quit her job. She slacked in her work, trying to get fired, to no avail. Eventually, she took Baily s advice, and “accidentally” broke some of Mrs. Cullinan’s favorite dishes, inherited from her mother.
Mr. Cullinan – Mr. Cullinan was Bailyes husband. Mrs. Cullinan was barren, but Mr. Cullinan had two beautiful daughters with a black woman. Mr. Edward Donleavy – Mr. Edward Donleavy was a white speaker at Angelou’s eighth grade graduation ceremony. He detailed how he worked to procure new science lab equipment and a new art teacher for the local white school. He detailed how he made sure important people knew that some of the best college athletes had graduated from the black school, Lafayette County Training School. His racist tone cast a pall over the graduation and infuriated Angelou.
She felt powerless to overcome the stigma of her skin color. Mrs. Bertha Flowers – Mrs. Bertha Flowers was the black aristocrat of Stamps. She was the first person to prod Angelou out of her silence after being raped. Mrs. Flowers made Angelou feel proud to be black. Mrs. Flowers loaned her some books and assigned her the task of reading them aloud. She also requested that Angelou memorize a poem to recite aloud. Angelou visited her often. Kay Francis – Kay Francis was a white actress who resembled Vivian. She made Bailey miss his mother deeply.