Book Review: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by: Maya Angelou

For the month of February, I was mostly focused on lowering my stack of romance novels. But in honor of Black History month, I wanted to make sure I read something from a black author.

We were supposed to read this in high school I believe, but syllabi always change. The Secret Life of Bees was the same way, and I enjoyed reading that earlier this year. So this book was just calling my name from the shelf.

I’ve always admired and respected Maya Angelou, even though I haven’t read much of her work, and having read this now I love her even more.

As a white woman, I realize many people face hardships that I do not. But I know it’s important for me to see the differences and to always treat people how they want to be treated. This book certainly put into perspective how life was in the early to mid-20th century for African-Americans. Through young Maya’s eyes, there is no sugar coating it. She may be innocent and not always understand the world she’s living in, but she sees the injustices plain as day.

The way Maya paints a broad picture through stories of her childhood is striking. In a way, it felt like I was reading vignettes.

It was sad and disheartening the way that the traumatic events at the beginning of the book shaped Maya’s story throughout the book. But isn’t that how it happens for so many of us? She’s determined to be stronger than it – yet it is always a part of who she is. She is always caged by the past, even though we see moments when she wants to share her heart with those closest to her. One line really struck me after she befriends Louise.

After all, girls have to giggle, and after being a woman for three years I was about to become a girl.

Between her rape, economic troubles and daily racism she’d faced, these adult issues and had kept her from really enjoy her childhood until Louise.

Of the many stories Maya shared, two really stood out as showing the racial divide. The first being during the graduation. The man from the state came and told them they’d all have opportunities to train at the A&M schools and that Arkansas was improving because of the advancements at the white schools. All this is while some children in Stamps go to school with a dirt floor. Maya puts all of this together during a day in which she wanted to celebrate her own achievements, but fears they will always be stunted by her race.

The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gaugins, and our boys (the girls weren’t even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owenses and Joe Louises.

Another scene that showed the blatant discrimination was when Momma took Maya to get her tooth pulled by the white doctor and he refused. This wasn’t quite as shocking to me as others, since I learned about it in school and in other books. I particularly loved how Momma knew that she was being treated unfairly and used her influence to make the best of it. What a Slytherin thing to do.

Anyways.. reading about the stark differences between the ‘white’ and the ‘black’ side of town. The better paved roads, luxury stores and lush trees were only present on the white side. This is certainly not a case of ‘wrong side of the tracks’, but lack of community and government funds allocated to these folks just because of skin color.

Even though Maya and her family members dealt with greater obstacles, there were stories within the book that were much more universal, like the struggle to contain giggles during church or her loving your brother beyond words.  Whether I was reading about her facing death for the first time at a funeral, or feeling the freedom and fear of driving for the first time, I was along for the ride and they spoke to me.

San Franciscans would have sworn on the Golden Gate Bridge that racism was missing from the heart of their air-conditioned city. But they would have been sadly mistaken.

This quote leaped out and me. And if any of you have been following American politics, you likely know why. Although society has made leaps and bounds, there are still many improvements that could be made. We might not separate water fountains anymore, but if we look around, things are not equal. We cannot turn a blind eye to it.

This book and the stories told were a humbling reminder that even though we may be different in looks and creeds, we all have similar experiences and can learn from each other. I am so glad I read this, it was a great learning experience and a harrowing story that I will carry in my heart for a long time.




2 thoughts on “Book Review: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by: Maya Angelou

  1. Well written review. I read this book a long time ago, but your writing makes me want to revisit it. Maya Angelou is one of my personal heroes, and I love her writing……thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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