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Maya Angelou Essay

2160 words - 9 pages

The book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the 1969 autobiography about the early years of writer and poet Maya Angelou. It is the first of six volumes about Maya’s life and the hardships she faced growing up and even in adulthood. This book covers the years from the early 1930's, up until about 1970. Out of the six, it is probably the most popular and critically acclaimed volume, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of personality and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. All of her volumes center around the themes of family, self-discovery, and motherhood, though in expressions of writing fashion and plot each of the books are different. At the beginning of the book abandoned by their parents, three-year-old Maya and her older brother, Bailey, are sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, and as the book ends Maya becomes a mother at the age of 17. Throughout the course of the book, lessons are taught and learned and Maya is totally changed from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-confident, distinguished young woman competent of responding to discrimination.
Stamps, Arkansas, as depicted in the book has very little social ambiguity: it is a racist world divided between Black and white, male and female. Maya also characterizes the division as good and evil, and tells of how she witnessed the evil in her world, generally directed at black women, and how it shaped her young life and formed her views into adulthood. (Als 2002). Critic Pierre A. Walker places Angelou's autobiography in the African American writing tradition of political protest. She demonstrates, through her relationship with the black community of Stamps, as well as her appearance of vivid and realistic racist characters and the crudeness of white Southern attitudes toward Blacks, her increasing understanding of the rules for existing in a racist world. Her autobiographies, beginning with Caged Bird, contain a series of lessons about resisting domination. The series she describes leads her, as the protagonist, from helpless anger and hatred to forms of slight struggle, and finally to outright and active disapproval.
For the first five years of her life, Maya thinks of herself as an orphan and finds comfort in the thought that her mother was dead. Her feelings for and relationship with her own mother, whom she blames for leaving her, express themselves in doubt and repressed violent behavior. For example, she and her brother destroy the first Christmas gifts that they received from their mother. These strong feelings are not dealt with until the end of the book, when she becomes a mother herself, and her mother finally becomes the encouraging presence for which she has wanted all this time. The two main motherly influences on her life change as well; Vivian plays a more active role, while Momma fades into the background as Maya, by becoming a mother herself, moves from childhood to adulthood. An...

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