Maya Angelou is an author and poet who has risen to fame for her emotionally filled novels and her deep, heartfelt poetry. Her novels mainly focus on her life and humanity with special emphasis on her ideas of what it means to live. The way she utilizes many different styles to grab and keep readers’ attention through something as simple as an autobiography is astounding. This command of the English language and the grace with which she writes allows for a pleasant reading experience. Her style is especially prominent in "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", where the early events of Angelou’s life are vividly described to the reader in the postmodern literary fashion.
In order to understand Maya Angelou’s works, one must first understand the postmodern time period. Postmodernism got its start during the early 1940s and continues all the way up to the present day. A main characteristic of this time period is the analyzation of human nature (1940s Postmodernism). According to the Public Broadcasting Service, “the French theorist Jean-François Lyotard succinctly defined postmodernism as [ . . . ] a skepticism toward the ‘grand narratives’ that seek to explain and plot human life and history” (1940s Postmodernism). Along with this, postmodern writing focuses on issues happening during the present rather than searching for answers to large-scale, in depth ideas. In keeping focus on the present issues, new knowledge that comes about is not acquired to simply know it, it is acquired to apply it (Klages).
Another important characteristic of postmodern literature is the mixing of styles. Many literary styles such as “[ . . . ] tone, point of view, register, and logical sequence; apparently random unexpected intrusions and [ . . . ] a self-consciousness about language and literary technique [ . . . ]” are combined together to create the postmodern style. Although postmodernism deals with serious themes, humor is often apparent in postmodern works (1940s Postmodernism) and is prevalent in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In the novel, when Angelou was speaking about an elderly woman she disliked, she stated, “I decided I wouldn’t pee on her if her heart was on fire” (104). This subtly interjected humor and mixed literary style keeps stories fresh and enticing to read.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings opens up with a prologue where Angelou is expressing her displeasure with being black. It is apparent from the very beginning that Maya feels a strong sense of displacement and racial inferiority. She continually states that she wishes she was white and, somewhat humorously, describes her appearance as “[ . . . ] a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet, and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil” (Angelou 4-5). This however, is where her journey begins. Throughout her childhood Maya learns the proper skills to be a lady and to live a Christian lifestyle. This helps her to discover herself as a person and...