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Hi! My name is Margot. My blog is about the things I love to do. That could be what I'm reading, places we visit, my family, food, or whatever else is happening. I hope you'll stay and visit a while. Contact me by email: joyfullyretired (at) gmail (dot) com.

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

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classics-bookclub

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Random House, 1969

Genre: Classics

It took me a long time to read this book. Not because it was boring or inferior, but because it was so incredibly good. I kept pausing to re-read passages and then to read them out loud to my husband, sometimes  to myself.

It’s a heart wrenching true story of things that should never happen to a child. But it’s also a true story of a shameful part of our American culture and history. This is Ms. Angelou’s autobiography of her life from age three through sixteen.

I read this book as a part of the Classics Bookclub at 5 Minutes For Books. I’m going to treat this “review” as if I am at a face-to-face bookclub and present the questions and my answers. I promise I won’t talk as much I might if this were a real face-to-face. Here are the questions:

  1. This autobiography was written in 1969, before the “personal memoir” era was born. Is there a difference between these two genres of books? To me this autobiography seems more like a novel. She tells the story of her experience as if to educate the reader about what it was like to be black and to be female during the time period. It’s not exactly the traditional autobiography with chronological tales with dates, etc. On the other hand I think of memoirs as something lighter, written by celebrities.
  2. Assuming that you did not grow up as an African American in the segregated South, do you have more understanding of that time period and how it affected those who lived it? Yes, the author’s details of her daily life, experiences and the people she knew made me feel as if I were there with her. Most of her early life was so horrific that it is to her credit that she survived. What hurt the most was how the treatment of blacks as less than human was designed to keep them in a subservient place in society. Even children understood this and it served to rob them of any hope that their futures would be better.
  3. In spite of the differences between her life and yours, what common themes resonated with you? I felt as if we had gone to the same church. I recall having to sit on the front row and wanting to laugh hysterically but then being shocked by the behavior of some of the adults. Another common thread was the expectation of the behavior of children and how we looked to others which was a reflection on our parents and our home.
  4. How do you think Maya was shaped by each home she lived in while she was growing up? We don’t know about her home prior to age 3. From age 3 to 13 she learned basic behavior and her place in the world from her grandmother. Although very strict and quick to administer corporal punishment, her grandmother, called Momma, understood her “sensitive nature” and her need for literature and the need to escape within the books. I do not admire her mother’s role, or non-role, in her life. She was there at the beginning and got her through high school, but only because she was forced to take the children. Maya’s grandmother was the molding force in her life.
  5. Which female in Maya’s life do you think had the most influence (good or bad) over her? Explain your response. There’s no denying the overall influence of “Momma” on Ms. Angelou’s life. But in looking at the direction her life took, I think a lot of credit should go to Mrs. Flowers. After Maya’s horrible experience in St. Louis, Mrs. Flowers’ positive intervention was just what she needed. As Ms. Angelou said, “I was liked and what a difference it made.” (page 85) Mrs. Flowers opened up new possibilities that stayed with her for life.
  6. After reading the book do you understand “why the caged bird sings”? Yes, the cage is a metaphor for how the effects of racism kept her from experiencing all that white children took for granted. Maya was the bird singing because she finally saw hope fror the future. As a little girl she wanted to become white but as she came of age she was proud to be black. She saw that it was possible to help change America for her own and future children.

My Summary: I’m not mildly recommending this book. I’m telling you that you really must read it. Read it for the beautiful prose and poetry of it, for the little-known black history of it, or for the fact that Maya Angelou is one our living icons. But most important, read it for inspiration. If you think life is tough now, read this book.  This woman’s childhood should have made her angry, bitter and hateful. Instead she gives us books and poetry that makes the world shine and makes us feel as if “a bright sun spoke to our souls”. (page 156) Yes, this book is that good.

For what other Classic Bookcluh members thought of this book, go here.

9 comments to I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

  • Cerrin

    After reading the book do you understand “why the caged bird sings”?

    I am going to try and answer this one for myself. I believe the caged bird sings is a reflection on the fact that that the white world tried to HOLD them in their place essencially caging them. and with her reading and writing (singing) she can escape the cage and be anyone she wants. She helps to show others that the cage is not real. The door is not really shut in their cage.
    A bird still sings in its cage so is the cage really there for the bird? Or can they leave thru their singing? Is the door on the cage to keep them in or to keep others out? Because the black community helps to keep that ‘cage’ intact.

  • When I was out and about I had the book with me people were asking me if it was good. I had a hard time answering as I equate good with entertaining and enjoyable. I said it was a hard book to read, but you should read it! Enjoyed your thoughts.

  • When I was out and about I had the book with me people were asking me if it was good. I had a hard time answering as I equate good with entertaining and enjoyable. I said it was a hard book to read, but you should read it! Enjoyed your thoughts.

  • When I was out and about I had the book with me people were asking me if it was good. I had a hard time answering as I equate good with entertaining and enjoyable. I said it was a hard book to read, but you should read it! Enjoyed your thoughts.

  • Great thoughts — wonderfully written review.

    I like the way you just jumped in and shared as if in a “real” book club. I hope that through our individual posts and dialogues that we can do that.

  • I like the way you presented this review! Very well done. I have this book on my TBR pile, and I’ve heard you have to be selective about your timing when it comes to reading it. I think when the right mood strike me, I’ll know. I look forward to it!

  • fleurfisher

    Great review Margot! It makes me want to rush out and find a copy to re-read.

  • This is a great review, Margot, and it makes me see the book in a new light. I especially like your take on the cage; I didn’t look at it through the lens of racism, but instead, through the lens of everything she had experienced in her life. I agree that Angelou is a very talented writer.

  • Where, oh, where did I read a review of this just yesterday? The blogger also printed her poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Margot, this is a fantastic format for your review; isn’t it wonderful when writing makes us slow down and re-read for pleasure (or to share with someone else).

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