Ninety years and eight days ago, Maya Angelou was born to parents that would divorce three years later. Forty-one years later, the autobiographical fiction book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969. It is on the occasion of Angelou‘s birth that I choose to review my experience of having read the book.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings gets into Angelou’s the harsh reality of growing up to the age of 17 as a black female in the racist America of the 1930s and 1940s. The book gets into difficult assaults on the main characters of Maya and her brother Bailey as they are shuttled between households across the country, suffering brutal attacks on personal dignity, racial and gender identity, ownership of innocence and the right to say yes or no AS CHILDREN in matters of intimate physical contact, and much more.
(Angelou‘s poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
The emotional and visceral feelings of consternation raised by the cruel and severe treatment of Maya and Bailey as children are unmistakable, autobiographical, and in raising commentary about the injustice and then later ramifications are unmistakable. In underscoring these indignities as well as the importance of family, fair racial treatment, and the longing for a less-trying background, the narrative structure not only exemplifies the reality yet drives home a notion that the human spirit still can flourish in the presence of events that would embitter people of lesser quality.
(A Kathy Coleman Jones poem inspired by Maya Angelou)
In the novel, the character Maya learns in her teenage years while living in San Francisco that consolation for grief from the past can be overcome. The transformation of Maya is the maturity and insight gained by self-love and the insight of friends that the character Maya finds within the pages of books. Maya professes a love for literature in general and classic writers and William Shakspeare specifically. Over the course of the work, the beauty that shows itself is the overcoming of the cages of racism, rape, an inconsistent family life, and other challenges in coming to the realization of choosing love, expression, deeper feelings. Maya the character frees her feelings to sing of the beauty she sees for herself and in others to move from the shackles of a cruel upbringing to the joyful singing of beauty, love, and depth.
In the reading of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I felt the sting of suffering with the characters of Maya and Bailey. I felt the confusion of adolescence with these two, as well as the longing for stability of consistent family, place, and justice. The humanity growth of Maya’s choosing love, literature, and the higher callings of our human family were redeemed, for a book from 1969, worked for me. It is for these reasons that the book rates 4.0-starts-out-of-five.
Matt – Thursday, April 12, 2018