I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography written by Maya Angelou, in which she provides details of her childhood in the deep American south (in the 1930s.) Central topics are: familial relationships, friendship, sexual abuse, poverty, racial discrimination and resilience. We follow Maya through the years she spends living in her grandmother’s store, the years in which she’s living with her mother in San Francisco during the second world war, as well as with her father in L.A.
The book is written in short segments detailing concrete events that happened which she must have remembered especially well. Some of the episodes included seemed almost random, and some seemed necessary. What the “red thread” was supposed to be, is hard to establish. First and foremost, I was moved by this novel. The tale of her childhood is written in such a beautiful and poetic manner. Most vividly I remember an episode in which Maya’s brother first encounters concrete racism and asks their grandmother what black people did to white people to make them hate ‘us’ so much. That tugged at some heartstrings. In general, I find the racism in this book to be illustrated in a way which makes it easy to grasp even for an outsider. Segregation, cotton-farming, the KKK hangings and racist white people are all topics I believe this book handled very well. The school assembly in which Maya and her peers realize they’re not meant to be anything, despite their education, was especially eye-opening in my opinion. We’re also served a very unique perspective on the Japanese internment camps of WW2 and are provided with a highly descriptive account of sexual abuse that will most likely rattle all who read it to the core.
I feel that what takes away from the novel’s greatness is the general way in which the episodes don’t really relate to one another entirely. Furthermore I think it’s odd that so much time is spent on the years 8 – 9, while so little is said about the years 13 – 16. On a bigger scale, I must say I honestly thought this was a really great book, and I would recommend everyone to give it a try, especially seeing how relevant (sadly) some of its content is to this very day.
Written by: Iselin Borg