I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Genre: Autobiography

Published: 1969

No. of Pages: 309

A strikingly moving first instalment of her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings spans Angelou’s childhood in the American South during the 1930s. Rife with racism, Angelou recounts her experiences as a black woman whilst living with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, and later with her mother in San Francisco, and how her outlook on life and people began to take shape. 

Recalling her childhood, Angelou writes through the eyes of her six-year old self, making her experiences all the more poignant and authentic. In this first volume, Angelou conveys the struggles and joys of her familial relationships. Where her feelings of confusion over abandonment by her birth parents mark an early insecurity in Angelou feeling unworthy of being loved, these emotions are balanced with the warmth and security she receives from her grandmother and her brother, Bailey. 

Moreover, Angelou’s autobiography addresses the tough themes of abuse, rape, and racism. Angelou bravely recounts traumatic moments, which violently scar her childhood. We see Angelou’s honest thought process and flux of emotions as she learns to come to terms with her experiences. Nonetheless, the numerous distressing racist incidents Angelou both witnesses and experiences are heightened by the fact it is narrated by a six-year old. 

It was particularly pleasant to witness the early signs of Angelou’s fast-growing love for literature. For Angelou, books served as a reliable source of comfort. Not only did poetry act as a close companion for times when she felt alone, but it helped her learn the power of words, and literature began to help her find her voice. 

We witness Angelou’s graceful growth from a naïve and innocent child, though not ignorant to the way black people were treated differently, into a resilient, brave young adult, acutely aware of the inequalities seeped in her country, and who learns to accept her disturbing past. In finding her voice, Angelou challenges racist societal structures, demonstrating her early nature in fighting against injustices. 

In navigating her childhood and growing up, surrounded by suffering, injustices, and uncertainties, Angelou is still able to find beauty, hope, and happiness in an otherwise cruel, unforgiving world. As a reader, it was a priviledge to witness Angelou’s strength and bravery through a beautifully written and honest prose. I highly recommend this book – I believe it is important to continue to educate ourselves about people’s experiences that may have been different to our own. Angelou is undoubtedly an inspiring and admirable woman. 

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