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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou

1594 words - 6 pages

Envision seventy-four years ago, an African-American that had just returned from war going into a restaurant and not being served because of the oppressive Jim Crow laws. Little human dignity was given to African-Americans living during the 1930’s and 40’s in the segregated South. Blacks, especially women, were not given a felicitous education because it was illegal to acquire and obtain books during this time period (Depression 117). Despite these hardships, Maya Angelou was awarded over fifty honorary degrees for her novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Women Memoirist 43). Dealing with the dilemma to learn to read and write, one may wonder how one of the best African-American authors of all time could prosper during such manifold, impeding hardships. Her novel takes place in the Deep South in the midst of a cultural and political reformation. Written in 1969, the novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, written by Maya Angelou, was deeply influenced by growing up during the Great Depression, facing racism and discrimination in the South, and enduring sexual abuse.
Life was an incessant struggle for African-Americans living in the Depression era. Very few were employed and those who were lucky enough to have some kind of work were forced to give them up to a white man who had lost his job. Many became homeless and crammed inside small shanty homes with several other people (Depression 211). Many jobs faced boycotts and riots that quickly led to violence, such as the burning of a paper factor in St. Louis (Lynch, African American Life). The Great Depression was a result of a stock market crash on October 29th, 1929. More than half of the population was unemployed and could not afford to feed their family. Thankfully the New Deal Programs were created to alleviate some of the hardships. Many African-American families, including Maya Angelou’s, benefited from these programs. The New Deal program was an “economic relief in reforms in industries, agriculture, and finance which vastly increased the scope of the federal government’s activities” (Lynch, “African American Life”). All of these reforms influenced Maya Angelou’s life and forced her separation from her family. A young Maya was soon going to learn how hard life can be growing up poor.
For an insecure African-American child like Maya Angelou, growing up penniless in such an atrocious time was an excruciatingly painful experience. As a result of the Depression, her father lost his job and the family’s economic status worsened. Luckily for Maya Angelou and her family, her grandmother had a reliable job and did not have to face some of the more serious realities of the Depression, including homelessness, starvation, and disease. Maya’s world is drawn in black “curtains” and is unable to imagine life from a perspective; as a result she becomes defiant towards Caucasians. Maya Angelou was envious of all the opportunities the white kids are given only because his or her skin is lighter. All...

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