I know why the caged bird sings – Review

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Genre: Nonfiction, Autobiography

Published by Bantam in 1969

Pages: 246

Rating: 4.2/5 on Goodreads

Buy it on Amazon or add on Goodreads

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

In my eyes:

This is the famous autobiography of the writer, Maya Angelou aka Marguerite Ann Johnson. By this book, she takes us through her journey of life which was in her words, “tedium.” The most heart aching fact in the whole book is the way Blacks were treated in the USA back in the 20th century.

Simply, this is a story about how a great writer was formed and molded through subtle experiences and influences of life. Every person’s life is full of flamboyant and bitter moments. She has described some of those unforgettable events of her life in a very delicate manner.

Some of those incidents are:

  • The harsh experience she had when she suffered a toothache which clashed with her Blackness.
  • The moment which she nearly died.
  • The brave step she took to apply for the post of a driver in the streetcars when no driver’s post was assigned to a single Negro in San Francisco and the challenges she faced after that.
  • Her running away from her father’s house and the abuses and violence she had to overcome.

Furthermore, the book reveals the relationships she had with her parents, brother, grandmothers, and uncles who played major roles in her life. Undoubtedly, she had a deftness and a great wit in perceiving the way life goes on. Also, she was mature for her age. This could be proven by the fact that she was graduated from the ninth Grade as one of the top students in the class, just at the age of twelve. The way her attitude had shaped according to the people and incidents around her was amazing.

“We were maids and farmers, handymen and washer-women, and anything higher that we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous.”

This book also unleashes even the morsels of details about how the thinking pattern changes when a child becomes an adolescent; also when an adolescent becomes a woman. She has been honest about revealing her womanish feelings when she was underage and how she struggled to be a part of a community which she did not belong to. I really enjoyed the chapter where she described that she had doubts about whether she was going to be a lesbian.

After reading this, I learned Pig Latin and tut language which were used in the colloquial language by some people at that time in certain areas of the USA. Also, I got to know about the Negro National Anthem.
At her graduation when she was low spirited, a poem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson was sung by a speaker who was also a colleague of her. This was the song the Blacks used as the Negro National Anthem and the one song which was special to her in her life, as it has awakened the brave, independent girl inside her.

Moreover, she states her notions about life, education, and youth, which were also my favorite statements from the book. Here are a few of them.

“Hadn’t I, always, but ever and ever, thought that life was just one great risk for the living?”

“I often thought of the tedium of life once one had seen all its surprises.”

“I reasoned that I had given up some youth for knowledge, but my gain was more valuable than the loss.”

“To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision.”

For sure, I have learned many things by reading this book and I awe her for some of her qualities, for which I liked her the most, such as her bravery. Most importantly, this is a story which is so inspirational; a life of a person who rose from ground level to success; a story of a writer who fought many obstacles in her life to mark her sign in the world as one of the eminent writers of all times.

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