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Analysis and comments on I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou

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Comment 86 of 526, added on February 25th, 2006 at 7:30 PM.

Here is what I thought of the poem after reading and studying it. It is not
so much an analysis of the poem, but an analysis of the devices used to
convey the thesis of the poem.

Maya Angelou is one of the major American authors of the 20th century who
is best known for her autobiographical writings. Her past years encompasses
the Civil Rights Movement, which was largely influential in her writings at
that time and up until today. The Civil Rights Movement in the United
States was a political, legal, and social struggle by black Americans to
gain full citizenship rights and to achieve racial equality. It was also
first and foremost a challenge to segregation. During the civil rights
movement, individuals and civil rights organizations challenged segregation
and discrimination with a variety of activities. Maya Angelou wrote “I Know
Why the Caged Bird Sings” in response to this movement.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” declares how there will always be social
injustices and inequalities within life. By relating to society as she
experienced it during that time, Maya Angelou compares the white people to
a free bird and the black people to a caged bird. The free bird is allowed
to roam anywhere and do as he wishes; however, the caged bird is forced to
be confined to his boundaries and sings of freedom. The caged bird’s
singing symbolizes its hope that one day they will rise to a level of
equality with the rest of society.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” possesses a passionate tone. The poem
speaks about the unfairness and social injustices people must endure as
they continue through life. Angelou describes how the free bird “leaps
[and] floats on the wind and dares the claim the sky” and the caged bird
“stalks in his cage” being “blind to the bars of rage.” She provides the
juxtaposition of the free bird to the caged bird to show the injustice
faced by many using words that evoke a sense of energy. This sense of
energy alludes to the fact that Angelou is unsatisfied with the way society
treats people and is eager to correct its faults. She then goes further to
speak of the caged bird’s song and how it “sings with a fearful trill of
the things unknown” because it “longs for freedom.” The fact that the caged
bird longs for freedom proves that the African-Americans have not yet
attained the freedom they deserve. Freedom in this sense does not
necessarily mean that the African-Americans are enslaved. Maya Angelou is
referring to the mid-1900s when the African-Americans were not treated with
equality as the white people, much less respect. It is the act of
segregation that limited the opportunities the African-Americans had to
improve their lives, thus preventing them from growing with the rest of
society, and therefore following up to today. Her taking on of a passionate
tone is in attempts to influence people to make the necessary changes
within society for a better life for the African-Americans.
Though it is simple, the poem’s diction contributes to imagery about
living life. The first of these would be the contrast between a “free bird”
and a “caged bird.” Birds symbolize freedom. Because both African-Americans
and whites are being portrayed as birds, theoretically both should share
equality and freedom; however, the African-American bird is caged while the
other is not. By simply juxtaposing both birds, Angelou describes how not
all people are treated equally. She goes further to illustrate how the free
bird “leaps on the back of the wind” and “dips his wings in the orange sun
rays.” Upon reading this is an image of the bird traveling to anywhere he
would like without bound, and a person would experience a wondrous
sensation and happiness for the bird to be so free. However, Angelou
immediately contrasts the second bird in his “narrow cage” of “bars of
rage” with his “wings clipped.” Compared to the free bird, the caged bird’s
life and situation would seem pitiful and unmatched. Such words evoke a
feeling of dread and horror. It leads readers to question how life could be
so unfair and cruel to the bird, or the African-American. Maya Angelou
intended for readers to question what they have in life, so that they would
understand that life could be unjust to their advantage or disadvantage,
and try to correct that.
Where the first two stanzas make it clear to readers that life is unfair,
the next three stanzas elaborates on this idea, and attempts to evoke
feelings of sadness and pity for the caged bird. Maya Angelou chooses to
have the caged bird stand on “a grave of dreams” while the free bird “names
the sky his own.” The situation the caged bird is in creates such poignant
grief because the connotation in a grave of dreams brings the images of a
dismal and desolate world. The connotation of “grave” is especially moving
because it intensifies the idea that the caged bird will forever be
captured with no opportunity to improve and make itself a better life. By
telling of how the caged bird still “sings with a fearful trill of the
things unknown but longed for still,” it increases the sense of
hopelessness and grief. People then respect the caged bird’s determination
to dream, live, and succeed even when it is placed into a world of
injustice and inequality. When people begin to respect the
African-Americans, Angelou’s hopes for the African-American would be
The poem’s language is symbolic, but the complex syntax and composition
arranges the words in a way relevant to the thesis through repetition. The
direct repetition of the third stanza for the last stanza is important to
the poem’s thesis. By repeating such a stanza with the caged bird singing
for freedom, it emphasizes that things have not changed for the caged bird;
however, it still continues to keep hope. Singing is often equated to
hoping, as many African-Americans did sing in the early past when they were
enslaved. Singing for freedom is transcribed to hoping for freedom. With
hope, there is a possibility that one day the African-Americans would rise
to a level of equality with the world. There is one line where its
alliteration heightens the effect of dismay of the caged bird. Its “shadow
shouts on a nightmare scream” explains how the bird’s dreams have become a
nightmare with the wretched world it has to live in. He can only “open his
throat to sing” for his own good. It represents the terrible life an
African-American would have had to go through despite his determination.
Maya Angelou writes each stanza as one sentence portraying the life of the
caged bird versus the free bird. By alternating between the life of the
free bird and caged bird, readers can clearly see the difference between
the two birds’ lives. This provides the chance to balance the caged bird’s
life with the free bird’s by seeing how one can help the caged bird achieve
the freedom of the free bird. Without any determination, the caged bird
will only retain its hope for the possibility of a better life. Angelou
indicates that there is in fact hope for the caged bird due to the rhyme
scheme of each stanza. It follows that the first three phrases of each
stanza adhere to a strict rhyming without change and symbolizes the caged
bird being forced to follow accepted ideas in society. However, the last
phrase of each stanza breaks off from the rhyme with the last word being
far from the original rhyme: “trill, still, hill, freedom.” The non-rhyme
represents the caged bird’s potential to break away from those accepted
ideas that white is the dominant race and perhaps rise to that desired
level of equality and justice.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was an accurate portrayal of the lives
African-Americans lived back in the mid-1960s, and in some cases it is
still a fairly accurate description of the lives some people live today. In
many ways it is impossible for the world people know today to live with
total equality and fairness. With people come feelings and opinions, and it
is also accepted that there are no perfect people. Many have tried to make
the world a better a better place for all, but ultimately, one can only
persevere and hope for the best.

Brian from United States
Comment 85 of 526, added on February 15th, 2006 at 9:06 AM.

this poem is so sad and i like the fact that its ambigious in the way that
it can be related to both human and animals, i thought of it more as
animals, i study animals and learn about them being caged up and it makes
me sad :(

natalie from United Kingdom
Comment 84 of 526, added on January 30th, 2006 at 4:33 PM.

Zach, she wrote because of her childhood there was a time where she did not
speak for 4 years because of issues with her family and she writes saying
that the the bird is a symbol of her and now that she is free from that
drama she can sing

Brianna from United States
Comment 83 of 526, added on January 28th, 2006 at 1:39 PM.

Why did Maya Angelou write this poem? Does anybody know exactly what she
means? And no, please no comments from drama queens who think that the
poem was written specifically for them.

Zach Green
Comment 82 of 526, added on January 26th, 2006 at 5:20 PM.

I need help with finding some imageries in this poem and explain what they
mean. I also need to know why this poem repeats!


lauren from Canada
Comment 81 of 526, added on January 26th, 2006 at 1:49 PM.

I got this poem from a friend of mine(jess) who definitely understands me
more than i let on. She sent me this poem because this is exactly how my
life is.. I feel like im a bird in a cage and the only song that i have is
of freedom. As the poem kept going, i realized that Maya Angelou is right
about the fact that the free bird thinks of another "breeze" while the bird
that is caged only constantly thinks about freedom and the dreams they
would have if they were free. That is exactly how i felt too. This
correlates to me because my life is similar to this in so many ways.
Parents have no right to cage their children and my message is that if they
do they will suffer and make their children suffer as well. I dont have to
sing for freedom anymore because i have it. But i will never be truly
free from my parents grasp if i dont let them go completely. Financially,
and emotionally..
but my two cents to this poem are that i love it, that Maya Angelou knew
the message she wanted to convey and she did and it came out loud and
clear, the price of freedom, the duality between having freedom and not
having it... i love this poem. i'm going to first thank jess for sending it
to me and then im going to print it out and keep it by me. It's very
inspiring, and i thank maya for writing this poem.. it definitely
described my feelings within.

Surrosh from United States
Comment 80 of 526, added on January 6th, 2006 at 2:10 AM.

i like the birdbrain metaphor. we are all imprisoned within the bars of our
own ignorance. i think it is sadly restrictive to examine this poem in
light of racial issues.

i really dislike this poet. in all of her poems that i have read, she seems
entirely obsessed with comparison and a sort of competitiveness. i have my
doubts that these things are any sort of stepping stones on a path to

Comment 79 of 526, added on December 19th, 2005 at 3:22 PM.

i notice that my mother Eunice Johnson was mention in the book, she was
married to Bailey Johnson before she died. I would like to talk or e-amil
Maya Angelou about the past, or talk to her brother Bailey Johnson

Loretta Fisher from United States
Comment 78 of 526, added on December 10th, 2005 at 3:28 PM.

Dear Friend from Bosnia, I fear that for generations born in America,
sleeping in comfort on the graves of brave fathers and grandfathers, I fear
that many have no idea that they are free, that they have never known true
bondage and, sadly, have no idea how "precious freedom is."

Patricia Belmont from United States
Comment 77 of 526, added on December 8th, 2005 at 1:24 PM.

This poem was written with very simple words and in a simple style, but
still it says a lot. When you read
"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." it makes you wonder "does humanity
actually realize how precious freedom is???"

ADMIRA from Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Information about I know why the caged bird sings

Poet: Maya Angelou
Poem: I know why the caged bird sings
Added: Feb 27 2004
Viewed: 9434 times
Poem of the Day: May 8 2007

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