I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Literary Analysis

History postulates an era of extreme segregation and white supremacy. Blacks were forced into servitude and experienced discrimination that limited their opportunities, increased inequities and inhumane treatment. The following essay articulates an analysis of Maya Angelou’s classic poem: ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. The paper will explore the poem’s hidden meaning.

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The title of the poem connotes a surface meaning of a bird in a cage that can only sing and envy a free bird. The caged bird watches, as the free one remains untroubled and has room to be ambitious, reaching for the sun. The bird sings and yearns for freedom, but its dreams remain crushed by the reality of its clipped wings and cage. The literature analysis proves that the poem has a deeper meaning. The poem’s title is a brilliant metaphor designed to address oppression, racism, abuse, and sexism. In the first stanza, there is a powerful illustration that postulates the caged bird’s perspective. The bird is free from limitations, even daring to reach the sky. The ones, who are not oppressed or discriminated against, can do whatever they wish and achieve their heart’s desire. They remain limited only by their imagination. On the other hand, the oppressed can only watch.

The second stanza brings the notion to the fore. The stanza highlights the plight of the oppressed. The cage symbolically represents racism, sexism, and the subjection of the victims. Further, the feelings of rage, bitterness, fear and guilt desecrates their self-efficacy and self-confidence, and become “bars.” The clipped wings and tied feet symbolize constrained opportunities and resources available to them. Cumulatively, the articulated aspects spark the need to struggle, survive, protest, and strive for freedom, which is symbolized by the bird's singing. By the second stanza, an apparent pattern of rhyme reveals itself.

The third stanza reveals trepidation in the oppressed first step toward freedom. The following line highlights the notion: The caged bird sang with a fearful trill of the things unknown but longed for still (Allpoetry.com, 2015). The discriminated do not know the freedom that the free people enjoy. However, they want the same. They do not understand the repercussions that may befall them for raising their voices and protesting, but it does not stop them from doing it. The protests gain the attention of the oppressor, evidenced by the line: His tune heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom (Allpoetry.com, 2015).

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The fourth stanza highlights the indifference of the oppressors. It features symbols illustrating the myriad of opportunities available to the white people, complimented by a bright and hopeful future symbolized by a bright dawn. It successfully depicts the people free from oppression as having nothing to lose and everything to gain. Consequently, the white people can truly reach their potential, fulfill their dreams and effortlessly achieve their life goals. Meanwhile, the caged bird struggles and has to cope with the reality of unaccomplished dreams. They remain shrouded by poverty and a conditioned belief that they are at mercy of the elite. Therefore, individuals and communities remain imprisoned by a debilitated self-efficacy and confidence in their abilities and the societies skewed assimilation of opportunities. The poet incorporates the use of literature techniques, such as alliteration, assonance and imagery (dawn-bright) to emphasize the notions of indifference and inequality postulated.

The use of imagery and symbolism to emphasize the contrast between the oppressed and the free of oppression persists into the fifth stanza. While the free bird (the free) can think of another breeze and the fat worms (opportunities) on a dawn-bright lawn (hope), the caged bird (the oppressed) have to mourn the death of its dreams. The oppressed have to deal with a situation devoid of hope and a reality of dismal opportunities. Subsequently, they revert into a vicious cycle of incessant oppression and an irrepressible will to survive envisaged by protests (he opens his throat to sing). The finale of the poem confirms the notion as it reverts to the bird's singing in trepidation for freedom.

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The author is Maya Angelou, whose life confirms and supports the thesis. The poem is an offshoot of her autobiography that plots her odyssey through debilitating psychological events. The black community of stamps, who found themselves oppressed and had no experience of freedom, sung of it every Sunday morning. A young Maya Angelou does not understand the concept either. She knows that she does not want the life she finds herself living. The poem develops from her book set in the small town of Stamps in the 1930s. The zeitgeist was austere racial segregation in the South. Further, there was poverty as Stamps was still recovering from the Great Depression. Moreover, slavery and the civil war were still fresh (Angelou, 1970). Women had gained the right to vote, but their liberation was still a dream. Further, the community displayed a unique self-imprisonment and a resignation to a monotonous way of life. It postulates an environment that is not suitable for a young black girl (Angelou, 1970). The black people remained subjected to the mercy of white supremacy, and their individual human rights continued to be disregarded. Another analysis aligns itself with the articulated analysis, ergo supporting the hidden meaning purported by the essay and its thesis (Walker, 1995). Although contemporary levels of discrimination and oppression are not as extreme as during Maya Angelou’s era, the book remains relevant because oppression (even in subtle or nuanced form) exists and the strength of the human spirit persists.

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