Overcoming Racial And Feminine Oppression: Angelou's Use Of Imagery, Characterization, And Symbolism

1224 words - 5 pages

Longing for the freedom that the beautiful blue-eyed white bird holds, the ugly black bird violently throws herself against the bars that ensnare her. After countless failed attempts, the black bird eventually understands that her cage is her identity. Believing her femininity and African American race are the cages that capture her, Maya Angelou relives the unfortunate incidents of her life in her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. At age three, Marguerite (Maya) and her brother Bailey are abandoned by their divorced parents and sent to live with their paternal grandmother and crippled uncle in the strongly racist and rural town of Stamps, Arkansas. From refusal to ...view middle of the document...

The awful story begins with Marguerite’s mother, Vivian Baxter, leaving early one morning to run errands. Sharing a bed with her mother and Mr. Freeman, Maya was left alone with her mother’s boyfriend. Having malicious intentions, he sexually assaults her. Maya’s grandmother, mother, and father failed to show her the emotional and physical affection all children need and this led her to accept the “love” she believed Mr. Freeman was giving. In the following chapter, Angelou describes in tactful detail of the next incidence: rape. Lying on the bed, confused as to why Mr. Freeman threatened to kill her beloved brother, she thinks to herself, “Neither of us had done anything to him. And then. Then there was the pain. A breaking and entering when even the senses are torn apart” (75). Maya never explicitly explains what is happening; instead, she uses tactile and kinesthetic imagery to depict the excruciatingly painful action. The forced maturity and murder of Mr. Freeman burdened Maya for her entire life. Choosing to expose this personality altering grief to the world took a great deal of strength. Angelou is unafraid of offending any sensitive readers by showing her longing for love.
The wants of a child are often overlooked, but the emotional and physical affection a child craves is a need that must be satisfied. From her grandmother, to her father, to her own mother, Maya Angelou uses characterization to illustrate her guardian’s failure to show her love. Momma, as she calls her grandmother, is revealed through her actions and her speech as a devout Christian whose emotional opinion never exceeded what was necessary. Throughout the book, Angelou comments on Momma’s refusal to coddle her and Bailey and her embarrassment of public displays of emotion. However, after taking an uneventful trip to a Negro dentist, she notes that, “she put her arm around me, which was very unusual for Momma to do page” (187). The one rare instance that Momma decides to show physical affection is called to special attention. Also called to attention, is her father’s attitude towards tenderness. Maya directly recalls that her father “had not shown any particular pride in me and very little affection” (224). Her father is nearly absent from her life until her teen years and even when she lives with him, he acts as an irresponsible foster guardian, rather than a parent. Her other parent, referred to as Mother or Vivian Baxter, seems to have picked up her ex-husband’s inattentive parenting skills. Maya became pregnant at age 16, and her mother who no longer...

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