I know why the caged bird sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (via skoool.ie)

Plot Summary

The story traces the life and activities of the writer Maya Angelou and how she moved around different parts of the States when she was a young girl. Maya and her brother Bailey move in with their grandmother in Arkansas when her parents split up. Her grandmother runs what is called the Johnson General Merchandise store in Arkansas. She makes references to the discrimination experienced by the coloured folk. She mentions the arrival of her father to the store and how rich he was and handsome. Maya moves to Caroline Street in St Louis to live with her mother for a while when she is about eight years of age. During that time she is abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He is called Mr. Freeman and is released shortly after being brought to court. His body is found dead later on, obviously having been punished by the black community for the rape of an eight year old child. Shortly after this Maya returns to the town called Stamps where her granny and her uncle Willie live. She attends various revival meetings with her granny and her brother Bailey. In 1940 she graduates from the central school. She is in San Francisco when world war two starts and she describes the atmosphere of collective displacement and impermanence experienced by the community as a whole. She also recounts a visit to her dad and his girl friend Dolorous. Maya drives to Mexico with her father and there he meets up with some friends and gets very drunk. Maya is forced to drive the car for about fifty miles. She has a crash but her father’s charming ways manages to prevent them from getting into more trouble. When Maya returns to live with her mother she finds that her brother Bailey is going through a difficult time in adolescence. Bailey goes to sea with the merchant marine. The story concludes with Maya at the age of seventeen giving birth to a baby boy.

This story is an autobiography. It gives us an account of her childhood up to the age of seventeen years. It is the first autobiography of four.
The style is descriptive and intimate. The writer makes frequent use of anecdote to illustrate several points, which she makes in the novel.
Genera Vision or Viewpoint

The general vision or viewpoint speaks about the resilience and strength of the human spirit against all the odds in life. Maya is a young girl who experiences a variety of different types of relationships and who is forced to live apart from a secure family life. She has a strong sense of humour and does not give way to depression at any stage in the story. Maya’s relationship with her brother Bailey is a strong one probably because they both were separated from their parents at an early age. In spite of the different trials and tribulations, which she encounters, Maya’s strength of character becomes evident in the story. She survives because of her love for people and for life in general.
Cultural Context

The culture represented in the book is that of the coloured people in the American south during the period of the 19330s.

She shows us life in the Negro section of St Louis and Arkansas in the mid thirties. There are some references made to the Klan and their abhorrent treatment of the coloured people. The author speaks about the Depression and how people lived off the land and earned a living through cotton picking.

The religion practiced by the people is that of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. There are many references to the bible and gospel groups.

Family Life
Maya lacks a secure family life. She spends a lot of time between both her parents and also living with her grandmother. She learns a lot of wisdom from her grandmother and because of her great love for her brother Bailey she manages to transcend the difficulties which she experiences because of a secure home life.

This story gives us many insights into the prejudices of a white community when faced with the problems posed by living near the Negroes. Throughout the story Maya makes several references to the rich white folk. We also see the inequality in the job sector when Maya goes to the city and how the white people hold many of the top positions.

Maya has a strong relationship with her brother Bailey. Bailey protects her at various stages and he is the only one she can communicate to when she is raped. Bailey is strongly attached to his own mother and loves her a great deal. She has a tough life trying to run a business and earn money. Her relationship with her husband seems to break down early on as they both separate when Maya and Bailey are very young. Maya’s relationship with her grandmother sustains her through some very difficult years. Relationships are seen to be a strong bond between people particularly because this story deals with the troubles experienced by a coloured community.


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