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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Summary & Analysis
- Maya Angelou creates contrasting images of how a free bird and a caged bird live their lives.
- The free bird enjoys the open sky and floats on the back of the wind while the caged bird’s wings are clipped and feet are tied.
- The caged bird’s future looks bleak. Still he sings in a fearful voice and he sings of freedom.
- Angelou, with the metaphor of birds, represents the inequality of justice seen in the society of her time which differentiates between the African-American community and its White American counterpart.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Explanation
The free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends and dips his wings in the orange sun rays and dares to claim the sky.
The opening lines show a bird leaping ‘on the back of the wind’ demonstrating the freedom it experience to move about and glide freely through the air. It hovers over a stream of wind and floats downwards to where the current of the stream ends and the wind is calm. It dips its wing in the sea of orange sunlight.
The bird is shown in a state of great tranquility. It has the freedom to move about wherever it desires. It is so utterly free and without restraints that it ‘dares to claim the sky’. The whole firmament is his one big home.
But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.
Here, poet Maya Angelou contrasts the situation by presenting the image of a caged bird. The caged bird tries to go after his cage in vain. The cage is narrow and its metaphorical bars are of rage. The caged bird is seen to be angry with its situation. It desires with all its heart to escape its plight. But the caged bird cannot see beyond his cage.
Its wings are clipped, that is, its freedom is taken away. Wings are associated with flight, which in turn is associated with freedom. The words ‘his wings are clipped’ mean that its freedom is forcibly taken away. It cannot fly even if it desires to. Its feet are tied.
A bird tied to the ground represents an image completely opposite to its true nature of flight. This represents the fact of alienation of the bird. But the most important thing is that despite being in this utterly despondent predicament, the caged bird ‘opens his throat to sing.’ That seems to be his only joy and achievement in life.
The caged bird sings with fearful trill of the things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom
The caged bird has a wavering voice. He is singing of freedom, something he does not have. The idea of freedom is his dream, one he cannot achieve. So, he sings about it. There is fear in his voice. He had never known what freedom tastes like, but hopes to have it for his own. His voice can be heard from distant places, on hills where it inspires others to dream of freedom. The caged bird doesn’t sing of sadness, but of hope, inspiration and of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn and he names the sky his own.
The free bird on the other hand revels in his freedom. He enjoys flying through the trade wind that blows through the trees. ‘Sighing trees’ probably refers to the sighing sound made by the breeze while passing through the leafy branches. It gives an indication to their lack of freedom, as the trees are also ‘tied’ to the ground like the caged bird.
The free bird thinks of the fat worm that will be his food. With the wind in his feathers, water and earth beneath him, and the whole sky with him, he feels majestic in his freedom and calls the entire sky his own domain. By ‘names the sky his own’ the poet’s wishes to express that the bird knows himself to be the proprietor of this whole universe. Here the sky stands for the universe.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged, inversely, knows that he is not flying in the sky, that he is not free, but a captive, a prisoner. He thus ‘stands on the grave of dreams’ He knows his dreams of flying in a free firmament, to experience freedom is futile. He had lost all hope of freedom. His shadow ‘shouts on a nightmare scream’. It is more pitiable, more adverse than a nightmare. His wings are clipped and feet are tied; there is only a little hope of freedom, and so the bird opens his throat to sing. The bird wishes to travail against all adversities. There is a faint but kindling voice of hope in his song.
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.
This refrain recurring as a stanza justifies the bird’s stout determination to keep going after his dream of freedom. Moreover, the caged bird chooses to sing as this is the only freedom available to him, that he can enjoy without any restriction. His wings are clipped, feet are tied, but his throat is not chocked yet. This is something the poet have felt at heart and that’s why she uses the title ‘I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings’.
This might be seen as the poet’s message to raise our voice, to express ourselves even though the stronger wants to suppress the weaker and to never ever give up, no matter what situation we are in.
Caged Bird: Commentary
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is a free verse written by the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou . Maya Angelou is widely regarded as the “Black Woman’s Poet Laureate.” Her reflections on the society and the times she lived in are vividly expressed in her poetry.
Outwardly the poem “I know why the caged bird sings” or “Caged Bird” as it is often interchangeably known, can be seen as a reflection on social disparity, and the ideals of freedom and justice. Angelou, with the metaphor of birds, represents the inequality of justice seen in the society of her time which differentiates between the African-American community and its White American counterpart. Through her poem, she also illustrates the nature of both freedom and captivity by creating a stark contrast between the two using birds as the metaphor.
In many ways the poem ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ can be considered as the poet’s personal expression. Maya Angelou can be regarded as the caged bird in the poem. A stanza in the poem is repeated to catch the attention to the idea of the caged bird singing for freedom. The poem uses a metaphor to compare caged birds to African Americans fighting for equality during the civil rights movement.
The poem is divided into six stanzas, describing the state of two birds, where one is free and ‘floats’ and ‘dares to claim the sky’, while the other is caged in his ‘bar of rage’. The first and the third stanza shows the delight of the free bird experiencing freedom, whereas the rest of the stanzas concentrate on the plight of the caged bird. Angelou puts greater emphasis on the lamentable state of the caged bird, and contrasts this with that of the free bird.
Although the poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has no definitive rhyme scheme, it creates the illusion of rhyme with the clever use of consonance. The enjambment in the poem draws the reader’s eye to things of importance in a blunt manner.
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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings , a groundbreaking work in Black women’s writing, is an autobiography depicting the childhood and adolescence of American writer Maya Angelou. It is the first volume of Angelou’s seven-volume autobiography. The book was nominated for a 1970 National Book Award, and in 1979, it was adapted into a film.
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The memoir opens in 1931 when a three-year-old Maya Johnson arrives in Stamps, Arkansas, along with her four-year-old brother Bailey. Their parents, recently divorced, sent the siblings to the small Southern town to live with their grandmother, Momma Henderson . Momma owns a General Store in the Black part of Stamps and runs it with the help of her disabled son, Uncle Willie . From an early age, Maya struggles with the feelings of self-doubt and abandonment and finds solace in books and her brother’s company. More mischievous than his sister, Bailey fills their time with new adventures and becomes Maya’s best friend and confidante.
The town of Stamps is highly segregated, and Maya has minimal contact with the white population, but nevertheless, she regularly witnesses instances of racism. When she watches Momma Henderson hide Uncle Willie from the Ku Klux Klan and sees the white neighborhood girls talk down to her grandmother, Maya is overwhelmed with a strong sense of injustice.
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Maya and Bailey adjust to their life in Stamps, and Momma Henderson becomes a strong role model for the siblings. One day, without warning, their father arrives in Stamps, and after spending some time in the town, takes the children to St. Louis to live with their mother, Vivian Baxter . She works at gambling parlors and doesn’t spend much time with Maya and Bailey, but both children admire her glamorous lifestyle, which is very different from Momma Henderson’s modest, conservative behavior. When Maya is eight years old, Vivian’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman , sexually abuses and rapes Maya. He threatens to kill Bailey if the girl tells anyone, so she keeps silent, but when her mother eventually finds out, Mr. Freeman is taken to court. Although he is found guilty of the crime, his lawyer manages to get him released the very same day, but soon afterward, Mr. Freeman is murdered. Overwhelmed with the feelings of shock and guilt, Maya becomes withdrawn and stops talking, and Vivian sends the children back to Stamps.
Under the care of her grandmother, Maya slowly recovers. The girl befriends Mrs. Flowers, an educated woman who rekindles Maya’s love for books. Maya begins to enjoy her schoolwork and spends all her free time reading. Maya sheds some of her insecurities and makes a new friend, a girl named Louise, who helps her navigate her first romances and life at school. When Maya’s eighth-grade graduation comes, she is proud of her academic achievements and hopeful about her future.
Worried about the racial intolerance of Stamps, Momma Henderson takes the children back to California. Maya is thirteen when she and Bailey move to San Francisco to live with their mother, who has remarried. They grow fond of their new stepfather, Daddy Clidell , and admire their mother’s free spirit. With the beginning of World War II, the social fabric of San Francisco begins to alter, and in this atmosphere of change, Maya finally begins to feel at home. Her birth father, Bailey Senior , invites Maya to spend summer with him in southern California. Soon after joining him and his girlfriend Dolores in their trailer park, Maya realizes that he is nothing like the father from her fantasies. When during a brawl, Dolores physically attacks Maya, the girl leaves and finds herself homeless. She wonders into a junkyard where she meets a group of homeless teenagers and joins them for a while, working and living alongside them. Their unquestioning acceptance boosts Maya’s self-esteem, and the exposure to different people and experiences profoundly changes her thinking.
Upon her return to San Francisco, Maya finds out that she has grown apart from her brother. She decides to get a job as a streetcar operator. There is a policy forbidding Black people from having such jobs, but Maya perseveres and becomes the first female Black streetcar operator in San Francisco. As she starts her senior year of high school, she becomes pregnant. Maya follows Bailey’s advice and doesn’t tell her mother and stepfather until after her graduation. Three weeks later, she gives birth to a son, marking her passage from adolescence into adulthood.
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By Maya Angelou
A Brave And Startling Truth
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes
A Song Flung Up to Heaven
STUDY + TEACHING GUIDE
Gather Together in My Name
Letter to My Daughter
Mom & Me & Mom
Mother, A Cradle to Hold Me
On the Pulse of Morning
Still I Rise
The Heart of a Woman
African american literature.
Black History Month Reads
Books & literature, coming-of-age journeys, community reads, creative nonfiction, sexual harassment & violence.
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Summary and Analysis Introduction
Rising out of childhood's bitter memories of a too-long cut-down lavender Easter dress made from "a white woman's once-was-purple throwaway," Marguerite "Maya" Johnson, the central intelligence, or key voice, well into adulthood, recalls in a flashback her fantasy of being suddenly transformed into a white girl and her intense need to be excused from church services. Unable to contain her urine on the church porch, she wets her clothes; then, sure that she will be punished for misbehavior, laughingly embraces her sense of freedom.
The opening lines introduce a crucial theme — the Maya character's movie-star dream of being so blond-haired and blue-eyed that she amazes onlookers. The scenario, heavily laced with rhythm, dialect, alliteration, and exacting imagery, reveals two of the author's strengths — her natural gift for language and her insistence on an upbeat, gentle self-deprecation, easily flowing from the humor sparked by incongruity and wit. Against the fairy godmother fantasy, she reveals that in reality she is a "too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil." As she internalizes her blackness, she equates it with ugliness, a self-image that clouds her childhood. In the last paragraph of her surrealistic exit from church, Angelou utilizes sensory impressions to dramatize her need to urinate, describing the urge as a "green persimmon, or it could have been a lemon, [which] caught me between the legs and squeezed." The forward rolling pitch that hurtles the small girl down the aisle presages the underlying rhythms that move her through the rest of the narrative against a tide of setbacks and disappointments that scarcely daunt her determined passage.
Colored Methodist Episcopal Church an African-American offshoot of the Southern Methodist Church, which withdrew from the parent church in 1870 as a separate entity devoted to the evangelizing of Africa's non-Christians. In May 1954, members voted to rename it the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
I know why the caged bird sings.
by Maya Angelou
A free bird leaps on the back Of the wind and floats downstream Till the current ends and dips his wing In the orange suns rays And dares to claim the sky. But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage Can seldom see through his bars of rage His wings are clipped and his feet are tied So he opens his throat to sing. The caged bird sings with a fearful trill Of things unknown but longed for still And his tune is heard on the distant hill for The caged bird sings of freedom. The free bird thinks of another breeze And the trade winds soft through The sighing trees And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright Lawn and he names the sky his own. But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream His wings are clipped and his feet are tied So he opens his throat to sing. The caged bird sings with A fearful trill of things unknown But longed for still and his Tune is heard on the distant hill For the caged bird sings of freedom.
Summary of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
- Popularity : Written by Maya Angelou, a popular African American poet, the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is an excellent literary piece. The poem reflects the facts of racial segregation or social discrimination in American society against black people. Using the metaphors of caged and free birds, Maya Angelou has highlighted the nature of captivity and the importance of American ideals of freedom, liberty, and
- Criticism on Racial Discrimination: Maya Angelou has presented two birds. One is caged, and the other is free. The caged bird represents African Americans and their sorrowful plight compared to the white Americans. She says that the free bird has the freedom to move anywhere in the world, while the caged bird is in captivity, full of pain and rage. African Americans did not have the freedom to move and enjoy life as white people before the Civil Rights Movement. The freedom of the free bird and the alienation and captivity of the caged bird have been compared and contrasted about both the communities, and the positive points of freedom have been highlighted.
- Major Themes: There are two major themes in the poem. The first major theme is given in the first stanza which is freedom. It is given through the image of a free bird that goes wherever it wants, ranging from enjoyment on stream to soaring in the wind. The second theme is captivity that cripples the bird in the cage. This theme goes on in the third stanza and tries to state that the caged bird is forced to sing a song of freedom. Then the free bird again comes into view in the fourth stanza and enjoys life on trade winds, trees and in the width and breadth of the sky. Next stanzas describe the caged bird’s fear while it is trying to sing a tune for its freedom during its bondage.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Maya Angelou has used various literary devices to enhance the intended impacts of her poem. Some of the major literary devices have been analyzed below.
- Alliteration : Alliteration is a literary device in which a series of words begin with the same consonant sound. This poem is rich with alliterations and its examples can be seen in the repetition of /s/ sound in “seldom see through” and then /w/ sound in “worms waiting” and then again /sh/ sound in “shadows shouts.”
- Assonance : Assonance is the use of vowel sounds in quick succession. The poem has a couple of assonances, for example, /i/ sounds in ‘distant hills’ and ‘sings with fearful hills’.
- Consonance : Consonance means repetitive sounds produced by consonants within a sentence or phrase . In the lines “But a bird that stalks down” /b/ sounds have been repeated and in the same way, /d/ sound is repeated in “trade winds.”
- Imagery : As imagery pertains to five senses, this poem is full of different images. “free bird” and “back of wind” images for sight and feelings. Similarly, there are some images such as “orange sun rays” is for sight, and “throat to sing” is for hearing.
- Metaphors : There are two major metaphors. The first metaphor is of the free bird that is for the white Americans or free people, while the caged bird is the metaphor of African Americans and their captivity in the social norms.
- Personification : Maya Angelou has used personification such as “sighing trees” as if trees are feeling sorrow. Also, she has personified the bird by changing its pronoun from ‘its’ to ‘his’.
- Symbol : Maya Angelou has used different symbols to show racial discrimination and social construction against her community . The caged bird is a symbol of imprisonment, while his song is a symbol of freedom.
This analysis shows that this poem has used literary devices to point out the importance of freedom before the Civil War era and even now .
Analysis of the Poetic Devices in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Although most of the poetic devices are part of literary devices, yet some devices are only used in poems. The analysis of some of the major poetic devices used in this poem is given here.
- End Rhyme : End Rhyme is used to make a stanza melodious such as in the first and second line the third stanza the rhyming words are “trill”, “still” and “shrill”.
- Internal Rhyme : The internal rhyme is rhyme within a line such as in the line “waiting on a dawn bright lawn” two words “dawn” and “lawn” rhyme with each other.
- Repetition : The poetic, as well as the rhetorical device of repetition, emphasizes a point through repetition such as “A free bird thinks” and “The caged bird sings” which have been repeated in the poem several times.
- Stanza : The poet has used stanzas with a different number of lines with no regular rhyme scheme .
Quotes for usage from “I know why the caged bird sings”
- These two lines can be used on the occasion of a speech given about freedom or liberty.
“A free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends.”
- These two lines can be used to make the people realize about the wildlife and the value of freedom for the birds.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still.”
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Plot Summary
Summary of i know why the caged bird sings.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings summary deals with the life of Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou’s name was Marguerite Johnson when she was young. She had to go through the traumatic experience of rape. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings theme took a dark turn at this point.
Consequently, she was left mute for five years. Marguerite shifts to the city of San Francisco. At San Francisco, she receives the honour of being the first black employee to work at San Francisco streetcars. She worries about her sexuality and tries to explore it. As a result, she becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a son at the tender age of 16. Maya considers this to be the best moment of her painful life. By the end of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings summary’, Maya finds happiness in her life.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Summary in English
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings summary is an account of Marguerite Johnson’s life. She later became popular as Maya Angelou.
Maya Angelou had love for family and church when she was young. Often she would go to meet her mother and father. Once while visiting her mother, she had to go through rape. Furthermore, the person raping her was a friend of her mother. After this violation, Marguerite didn’t speak for five years.
Marguerite explains about her return to Stamps. Mrs. Flowers and Louise Kendricks became her friends. Furthermore, Marguerite became aware of the social order prevalent in Stamps.
She observes the caste system that was present in this place. Maya gives us a description of the community pride, church picnic, and neighbours gathering to listen to radio fights.
Her brother encounters a man who was made to drag from the river. Afterwards, Marguerite’s grandmother takes her to her mother living in California.
Marguerite is happy to see her grandmother adjust so well. This is because her grandmother had never before left the Stamps.
At this point in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings summary, Marguerite throws light on the class system prevalent in the West. Marguerite becomes aware of yet another social structure when she visits her father in another town.
The father of Margeurite lives with Dolores Stockland. Dolores becomes very angry when Marguerite visits Mexico with her father. This was because she didn’t came back until the next day.
An argument takes place between Dolores and Marguerite. Furthermore, this argument embarrasses Marguerite’s father. Consequently, he leaves Marguerite who then runs away.
After running away, Marguerite sleeps in a junkyard. Next morning, she sees some individuals staring at her. She meets befriends a gang of juveniles who spend their lives around junked cars. After spending a month with them, Marguerite calls her mother due to insecurity.
Marguerite was successful in attaining employment at San Francisco streetcars. She also became the first black employee there, thereby breaking racial barriers.
Marguerite began to have fear regarding her own sexuality. She began to fear if she was a lesbian after reading a book on lesbianism. To end her doubts, Marguerite came to the decision of having sex with a boy. Three weeks later, she became aware of her pregnancy.
Marguerite made a decision to hide her pregnancy from everyone. At the end of I know why the caged bird sings summary, Marguerite became a happy mother.
Conclusion of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
I know why the caged bird sings summary sheds light on the traumatic life of the author Maya Angelou.
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The wonderful summary thank you for this.
They did not belong to the family of gorden cook and you also didn’t write the spelling correct it’s James cook 😶😑
What’s funny is that Miss Fairchild said the line- “Money isn’t everything. But people always misunderstand things and remain stupid-” when she herself misunderstood the situation.
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I know why the Caged Bird Sings Poem Summary & Line by Line Explanation in English ICSE 10th
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Table of Contents
‘Caged Bird’ is written by Maya Angelou, an American poet largely known for her autobiographical works. It was first published in the collection “Shaker, who don’t you sing?” in 1983. It is a long poem dealing with the inherent need for freedom in human beings.
Angelou’s life is a testament to the whole Black American’s lives and the way they have struggled throughout history against every form of exploitation and looked for freedom. This poem sings that narration through the traditional metaphor of bird.
The poem has 38 lines which are divided into 6 stanzas. There is no particular form to this poem, it is largely written in free verse.
Adding contrast to the title of the poem, the poet begins with a description of a free bird. It describes how a bird that is free to fly performs all kinds of tricks in the air. A free bird can flow with the wind stream.
It reminds us of the people who are free to live as they wish. They can do whatever they want to. A free bird dips his wing in the orange sun rays . A person who is free can take part in the brightness of this world. Only a free person can dare to claim the sky . Freedom knows no limit.
The poet then talks of a bird who is limited to a narrow cage . Such a bird can not see through his bars of rage . Restriction from freedom fills us with hesitation towards life. In such anger, one can not see ahead.
A bird inside the cage has no wings to fly because they are clipped and his feet are tied. He can not go anywhere so he can use his mouth only which is free to sing. It reminds us of the poet’s own life in which she faced so much but kept singing poems.
Again the poet compares the free bird to a caged bird who can only sing fearfully. Due to the lack of freedom, most of the things from the outer world are unknown to the caged bird so he longs for them.
A song travels from place to place so the song of the caged bird can also be heard in distant hills. It means, her claims for freedom through her poetry are now known in distant places too.
Here, the poet primarily draws out the fact that only in freedom, one can see the beauty of this world. The free bird thinks of a comfortable breeze. For him, the wind goes softly through trees.
He has good food ready to eat . The fat worms are waiting for him on a beautiful lawn where he can freely fly and eat them. He has the freedom to name his own sky. The lack of freedom doesn’t allow a person to even name things for him.
Alternatively, the poet speaks of a caged bird who can never act on his dreams. His dreams remain dreams without any fruition into reality. He stands on the grave of his own dreams which died out slowly.
A caged bird is afraid of its own shadows. His dreams are now turned into nightmares and his shadow reminds him of that.
It is the unimaginable exploitation which the poet and her people went through. As a caged bird, whose wings are clipped and feet are tied , she can only sing now.
The poet finally ends with a gleaming picture of a caged bird who sings a rapidly alternating tune full of fear. The poem as a song repeats its earlier images of longing for the unknown in a caged bird.
There is still hope because his tune is traveling across distant places and everyone is noticing because he sings of freedom.
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Listen to the Summary of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 20 minutes. Please note: This is a summary & not the original book. Marguerite "Maya" Angelou and her brother Bailey are sent to live with their grandmother Annie Henderson in Stamps, Arkansas, after their parents' divorce. They grow up in the Store, a community hub owned by their grandmother. Maya develops a love for literature and navigates the complexities of Black Southern life, including racial tensions and personal struggles...
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
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