Justine Martignetti's Reviews > I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
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Nov 07, 11

Read in October, 2011

Just at the ages of three and four, Marguerite and her brother Bailey, two young black children, were sent to live with their Grandmother in Arkansas. They find themselves living in a racist city called Stamps. They begin to call their grandmother Momma, who is an uptight and religious woman. They also live with their Father’s brother named Uncle Willie, who is crippled. The children worked for Momma in her store, and received good grades. Marguerite and her brother received presents from their parents on Christmas, but they still question if their parents are alive. However, one day their father shows up at their house to take the children to St. Louis, where they will live with their mother. When they arrive in St. Louis, they finally meet there beautiful mother, Vivian and her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. The two admire and look up to the stunning women and call her Mother Dear. Marguerite discovers that when they were younger, Bailey referred to his sister as “my sister” which then turned into Maya. One day when Mother was gone, Mr. Freeman raped Maya and threatened her to keep her mouth shut. Mother and Mr. Freeman got into an argument and he moved out. Bailey finds evidence of how Maya was raped. So they bring Mr. Freedman to court, and after the trial he was found dead. After Maya thinks that she is to be blamed for his death and stops talking, this results in the Mother sending the children back to Stamps. When Maya’s eighth grade graduation comes around, she is very excited and proud of her accomplishments. The pride didn’t last long, once a white man speaks at the ceremony. After graduation Momma takes Maya to the dentist, but he refuses to treat a black person. Then Momma finally decides that it is time for Maya and Bailey to go and live with their mother. When the Two arrive in California they find their mother has married to Daddy Clidell, who is their first real father. Maya then goes to live with her father and his girlfriend Dolores. Mayas father invites her on a trip to Mexico. When they get home, she finds herself in a fight with her father’s girlfriend, which resulted in Maya bleeding from a cut, and her father sends her to live with his friends for a while. Maya decides to leaves the house and finds a junkyard, where she meets a group of homeless children and lives with them for a while, until she calls her mother to get her. Maya then decides to find a job. She has her heart set on being a streetcar conductor. However they do not hire blacks. So Maya keeps at it until they finally gave in, and offered her a job. Maya finds a boyfriend which resulted in Maya becoming pregnant. Once her son is born, she is frightened to come in contact with him, she’s afraid that she might hurt him. Until one night Maya’s mother makes her sleep next to the baby to show that she doesn’t have to think about doing the right thing, and if she’s for the right thing than she will do it without thinking.
This book is a reflection of Maya Angelou’s life, and her battle through racism. Growing up Maya and her brother didn’t truly understand racism. They questioned what blacks did that was so terrible to make white treat them poorly. Throughout the book Maya and other characters are faced with racism. She watches white children disrespect Momma. A dentist refuses to treat a black person and states that he’d rather put his hand in a dogs mouth that a Negros. Also her white boss decides to shorten her name to Mary because it’s easier. Bailey witnessed a black man dead with a white man proud and happy. At her eighth grade graduation an unexpected white speaker state that blacks are not suitable for an academic job because of their lack of intelligence. However Maya stands up for herself when she is refused the job as a streetcar conductor. She kept at it until she earned the opportunity. Maya illustrates how white people constantly put blacks down and make them seem lower. She shows that her hopes are crushed by whites giving blacks a poor reputation. On page 153 Maya quotes “We were maids and farmers, handymen, and washerwomen, and anything higher that we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous.” This shows that whites’ opinion intimidated blacks from sticking up and doing what they are capable of.
The books subject is racism, and how it affected blacks in the past. Now blacks and whites are treated equal. The small amount of racism today can’t compare to the racism in the book. Although there wasn’t much physical harassment in the book, the quantity of verbal harassment towards blacks could be considered just as bad. Maya Angelou was a talented intelligent beautiful girl, but because of how white folks treated her, she didn’t think of herself as these characteristics. You can’t truly understand racism until you have been exposed to it. The ill treatment of blacks could cause them to think of themselves as less. Looking at all of the beautiful white girls and their fair skin and blond hair, it makes her feel ugly. “It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life. It was brutal to be young and already trained to sit quietly and listen to charges brought against my color with no chance of defense.”(p.153). This displays how young black children know that they’re restricted because of the color of their skin. In the book an unexpected guest speaker, who was white, was giving a speech about how blacks are good at only sports, but not so much when it came to academics. This crushed most of the children’s dreams. Maya Angelou stated on page 156 “I was no longer simply a member of the proud graduating class of 1940; I was a proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race.”
Racism can be looked at as a powerful life changing subject. It can put people down, make them commit suicide, or even mentally damage them. Today, racism is not commonly found, I feel like we have overcome being prejudice to certain groups and we are now all equal. Now, in 2009 our first African-American president took oath, which shows how society has come a long way since racism in the 1900’s.
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