I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Many unfortunate individuals, at any point in history, have felt trapped and/or helpless during a complicated situation. Whether it is an African American enslaved during the Civil War, a victim of the Holocaust enclosed in horrifying memories, or a girl trapped in her inability to voice her thoughts, all of these situations can be considered horrendous, at a certain level. The poem “Sympathy,” by Laurence Dunbar, visibly expresses how African Americans were “caged” during the callous times of slavery.
This poem was meant to symbolize those who have felt trapped at one time in their lives, with a metaphoric caged bird. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir by Maya Angelou, also exemplifies the anguish people have felt during times of desperation and “confinement. ” More specifically, Angelou portrays this grief by contrasting similar characteristics between certain characters in her memoir and the caged bird in Laurence Dunbar’s poem.
The incredibly, prominent poem, “Sympathy,” written by Laurence Dunbar compares enslaved African Americans, during the 1800s, to an aggrieved caged bird, longing for the taste of freedom. This poem clearly describes how the caged bird struggled to be free after enduring temptation and physical and mental distress. During the first stanza, Dunbar vividly illustrates the imagery outside of the “cruel bars” of the cage, and tries to get the reader to comprehend how the caged bird, and the “incarcerated” African Americans, felt tempted at the chance to be free.
In addition to temptation, the caged bird also faced physical pain. In the poem “Sympathy,” Laurence Dunbar clearly describes how the caged bird struggled to become liberated: I know why the caged bird beats his wing Till its blood is red on the cruel bars; For he must fly back to his perch and cling When he fain would be on the bough a-swing; And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars And they pulse again with a keener sting” I know why he beats his wing! This stanza is an extended metaphor discussing the difficulty and the anguish that African Americans went through to obtain freedom.
African Americans did not stop trying, no matter how much the scars might sting, physically because of abuse from white people, and/or mentally because of the difficulty of acquiring liberty. Finally, the last stanza elucidates the reason why the caged bird sings “ah me. ” This is the caged bird’s way of sending out a “prayer” or a “plea”, one which he hopes someone ill answer. One very significant character in the autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is “trapped” like the caged bird as well. Mrs.
Flowers, “the aristocrat of Black Stamps,” cannot leave Black Stamps, or any other inadequately constructed town established for people of color, because quality towns built for white people were may be in society. The black section of Stamps resembled the “cruel bars” in the poem “Sympathy,” because once you are in Black Stamps, there is no way to get out. This situation results in the lack of opportunity Mrs. Flowers had to obtain a better education and a superior career. Segregation in America also relates to the reason why Mrs. Flowers is not treated well in society.
As stated by Marguerite (Maya Angelou, herself), “It was fortunate that I never saw her [Mrs. Flowers] in the company of powhitefolks … who tend to think of their whiteness as an evenizer… ” (Page 55). Similarly to the caged bird, Marguerite, the main character of the story, “sings ah me. ” One example of why Marguerite “sings ah me is because of the embarrassment she feels towards her grandmother. Marguerite absolutely cannot tolerate Momma’s illiterate language. Marguerite states, “Brother and Sister Wilcox is shdly the meanest ‘Is,’ Momma, ‘Is?
Oh please, not ‘is’ Momma, for two or more… Shame made me want to hide my face” (Pages 53, 55). Another reason why Marguerite sends out a plea to be heard is because Marguerite has been brutally raped as a child. This has caused Marguerite to stop participating in class and has lowered her self-esteem. Mrs. Flowers exclaims that “The teachers report that they have trouble getting you [Marguerite] to talk in class” (Page 56). Marguerite also says that, “For nearly a year I sopped around the house, the Store, the school, and the church, like an old biscuit, irty and inedible” (Page 53).
The final reason why Marguerite “sings ah me” like the caged bird is because Marguerite cannot get a better education, like the white children of the town of Stamps. The schools in Black Stamps had tattered textbooks, awful teachers, and scantily built classrooms. Marguerite could not attend the excellent schools in White Stamps because of the racism that still existed during that time. In her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou evidently portrays the reason why she decided to name her autobiography after a famous line n Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “Sympathy. Angelou visibly compared the characters in her novel to the caged bird in Dunbar’s poem. Marguerite later learns from her mentor, Mrs. Flowers, that one way to overcome her trapped state was to learn to vocalize her thoughts and feelings. As Maya Angelou once quoted, “Language is man’s way of communicating with his fellow man and it is language alone that separates him from the lower animals. ” People can overcome difficulty if they set their minds to it, and may not be trapped or caged forever liked the in infamous caged bird.