I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Theme Analysis
Reading is an ongoing theme through Maya’s childhood and books even become her lifeline after Mr. Freeman rapes her. They give her an escape from her immediate world as well as the opportunity to find poetry. It is not until Mrs. Bertha Flowers reads aloud to her that she recognizes beauty in the sound of the words and she is shown the aesthetic pleasure available. This offsets the abuse she has suffered and gives her the opportunity to engage with the world once more.
It could be argued that, in turn, Angelou’s volumes of autobiographies also offer a form of inspiration that challenges the dominant ideology of racism. Through her written words, she invites one to question the de-humanizing effects of racism and encourages a move from passivity to activism.
As Angelou recounts memories of her childhood in Stamps, she manages to maintain a double-edged view of the South. Although she is careful to let the readers know of humorous occurrences, she balances this throughout with reminders of how entrenched racism de-humanizes and terrifies those who are regarded as being at the bottom of the hierarchy.
She describes the complete segregation of the town and how African-Americans have been taught to dread the ‘whitefolks’ and is trained by Momma to never be insolent (because of the fear of retribution). I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings stands as a testament to the bravery of those who have been oppressed but not silenced by this deeply racist society. As the eponymous caged bird, that is taught the necessity of living a restricted life through fear, Angelou’s work shows a refusal to be silenced.
Sense of Belonging
In this memoir, Angelou refers vividly to instances when she feels as though she has been on the outside looking in and it is not until she lives in San Francisco and later lives as a homeless person that she finds acceptance. Before these times, it is as though she is an exile in her family and neighborhood. In the Prologue, she relates to the truth in the poem, that she has not come to stay and experiences this same emotion in St Louis when she first returns to Mother.
In San Francisco, she thrives in the newly burgeoning African-American community and as one of many underage homeless persons in the disused car lot she finds the acceptance of her peers that she has been craving.