Reading Maya Angelou’s memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is an enjoyable, rewarding, and inspiring experience, which draws me in as a reader, and leads me to consider the deeper meaning behind the resonating title. Angelou travels back in time, writing from the perspective of her own girlhood and adolescence, conveying her past experiences with the clarity, maturity, and wisdom of an adult. Not only is Angelou able to portray her own difficult circumstances, she also uses her unique point of view to acutely observe the oppression experienced by those around her.
Angelou tells her story as a young girl, through the lens of adult observations and reflections. The narration reminds readers how to think about people and life with the innocence and heart of a child and with the knowledge of an adult. Using these perspectives together, Angelou leads readers to think differently about biases and oppression.
Angelou doesn’t necessarily view her own suffering as unique, rather her discussion of her own issues is viewed as part of a larger picture of human suffering. The reader empathizes and relates to Angelou’s personal issues and the human plight at the same time. She discusses issues that closely impact her: rape and later teenage pregnancy and the struggles of her nuclear family with racism. These hardships don’t keep her from noticing difficulties in the lives of others: Japanese citizens forced into Internment Camps, negative views of lesbians in society, and the hard lives of people living in the local junkyard. This ability to dissect the concept of oppression, and determine that it is something all people experience in some way, gives the author and writing, a particular significance.
The theme of oppression among people is highlighted in the title. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” is always present, unfolding with the text, becoming increasingly recognizable and relatable. The idea of various forms of oppression, which are experienced by different people individually, but by all people in time, leads the reader back to the title. As readers we find, that we all struggle, but we can choose to keep singing. In the end, I felt that I too, knew why we all struggle and fight to “sing,” regardless of the obstacles in our paths.
Angelou finds ways to make any reader feel that he or she is included in this experience . We don’t need to belong to any demographic or have experienced the same trauma as someone else in order to know what it means to be human and to struggle. Rather than minimizing the pain or keeping it hidden, Angelou brings it out in the open. She communicates a positive message, and brings people together without diminishing the human plight. I believe people of all kinds owe it to themselves to share in the experience of reading this text.
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5