I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Ballantine Books, 2009.

ISBN 978-0-345-51440-0

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Written by: Maya Angelou

Reviewed by: Madi Gioia

Recommended for: Adults

Marguerite Johnson (Maya) is an insecure, black girl living with her grandmother, Momma,  in Stamps, Arkansas in the 1930’s. Growing up in a racist, segregated town she and her older brother Bailey faced discrimination and disrespect. One day their father arrives suddenly, and takes them to St. Louis to stay with their mother, Vivian Baxter.  In St. Louis, the children are looked after by their mother’s family and their mother Her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, avoids contact with the children, until he molested, and eventually raped, Maya. Soon after he is discovered, he is tried in court, released, then mysteriously killed. We are lead to believe he was killed by Maya’s uncles. Maya believes it is all her fault, and refuses to speak for a substantial amount of time. She and her brother are then sent back to Stamps, where Mrs. Flowers took an interest in Maya and taught her that speech and writing are beautiful and important and helped her start talking again.

At Maya’s eighth grade graduation,a white guest speaker tells the crowd that black people can only be good at sports, not academics. After that depressing speech, the crowd sang together, and Maya felt proud of herself and her people. Still, she sees that racism is not so simply overcome. When she had two cavities, her mother tried to take her to a white dentist, who refused to help her.  Momma decided that it was safer to send Maya and Bailey to California to be with their parents after Bailey had seen a dead black man and a white man who was happy to see the man dead. 

In California, Maya lived with her mother. She and Bailey loved their mother deeply. She is  strong and kind, and married an equally strong and kind man, Daddy Clidell, who was Maya’s first real father. She spent the summer with her father and his girlfriend, who was not much older than Maya. Her father took her to Mexico for a night, and Maya figures out that he had a mistress there. Her father gets so drunk Maya has to drive him home. Afterwards she gets into a fight with her father’s girlfriend and  left. She lived in a junkyard with a group of homeless teenagers for a month. Back in San Francisco, she decided to work as a streetcar conductor, even though black people were not allowed to. She persisted until they finally hired her. She worked there for a semester and then went back to school. Maya decided to find a boyfriend after reading a book that confused her. She approached a popular boy and asked him to have sex with her and he said yes. She forgot him, and three weeks later she found out that she was pregnant. She hid it from her mother and stepfather for 8 months. She had the baby and her newborn son gave her a confidence that she had never felt before.

Authors Website: http://mayaangelou.com/

Description of Book: http://www.shmoop.com/i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings/summary.html

Interview With the Author: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIQPxBUDu8s

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