I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is an autobiographical book by Maya Angelou who is an African American poet and writer. This is her first book in a series of books she writes depicting her life. In this 1969 book, the author talks about her early life as a girl growing in a racial American society. She writes about her life experiences she undergoes from the age of three to the teenage. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings shows how the love of literature and strong character can bring out the power in a person to overcome childhood trauma and racism. The society she and her elder brother lives in is dominated by the racial power. The blacks are seen as inferior and most of the time they are defenseless as they are looked down upon. The story starts when Angelou and her elder brother are taken to live with their partial grandmother in Arkansas, this is the place she witnesses a lot of racial injustices done against the blacks. Her life changes when she becomes 17. From this point, she decides to use her power to transform to a strong woman who beats inferiority complex (Gilbert, Susan, 1999).
Angelou and Bailey, her older brother, undergo suffering as victims of circumstances. Their parents get divorced and due to this, they are unable to look after their children. This prompts the father to send them to Stamp, Arkansas from Long Beach, California on a train as a luggage. Although Angelou is too young, she is able to understand what is happening, something that adds more sorrow of racism that she later experiences. The whites are vested with more power in the world she faces than the blacks. Life has actually gone worse than it earlier was.
The book clearly gives the description of the kind of treatment that Angelou and her family goes through from the white neighbors. Her grandmother, Momma, at some point has to hide the crippled uncle when they are invaded by the Ku Klux Klan. This was a white organization that lived in the southern part of the United States. They believed that blacks did not deserve any respect at all, and for this reason, they used to attack the blacks at will. Their attacks were majorly done at night, something that led to the demise of many blacks. When they come at Angelou’s family house, the grandmother had to hide the uncle just to preserve his life as he was crippled. The clan believed that the blacks were only to be employed as house helps and could be done away with at will (BBC World Service).
The injustices are also done by the children of the whites. Although Momma, Angelou’s grandmother is not very poor because she owns the store, the white neighborhood continues to look down upon them as they are black. A young girl who Angelou calls “po white trash girl” humiliates her grandmother by showing her pubic hair. This family undergoes many other challenges from these neighbors who feel superior to the rest. At a given point, Maya is employed by a racist who forcibly changes her name to Mary against her will. What discourages her more is the invited speaker at her eighth grade graduation who says that the black community has limited chances of getting jobs. This is a clear show of how the society has been divided. Circumstances around Maya only discourage her of ever gaining anything better in life.
In another instance, Maya has a rotten tooth that needs to be medicated. A white dentist refuses to attend to her due to the fact that she is black. Earlier, Momma had loaned him some money at a time of depression. He still refuses to attend to Maya after her grandmother reminds of this fact. Despite all these, some ray of hope is seen when Joe Louis, a black, wins a fight championship.
A turnaround happens when her father suddenly appears and takes them to see their mother in St. Louis. Her father decides to leave them with their mother for a moment. At this place, she is unexpectedly raped by Mr. Freeman, her mother’s boyfriend. Due to the fact that she has less physical strength, this man takes advantage to defile her. Her sorrows doubles and she refuses to confide to anyone except her older brother. Maya does not only experience injustices done by the whites but also by the black males. Mr. Freeman is the face of the males who take advantage of the young defenseless females in the society. He is later convicted, however not jailed because he is found dead.
In conclusion, Maya comes out as a success in a society that was mostly racial. Her growing up is full of challenges that seem to shape the way she deals with issues. She grows up believing that the whites are superior and the blacks cannot achieve anything. However, she changes her opinion when she is challenged by her friend who encourages her to continue the education. She gains courage, goes to college and graduates. Her later life is full of excellence in her specialization of dance and drama.