College Essay Examples

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

Literature Review

The book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is among the outstanding scholarly works by Maya Angelou. It was published in 1969. The book records most of her childhood and teenage experiences from the ages of 3 to 16. The story recounts a life exposed to the social ills of racial discrimination, marginalization, and rape. Maya explores a wide range of themes through her life experiences that touch on abandonment, family ties, religion, and displacement. Essentially, she is the caged bird, trying to break free from her tribulations. She brings out all these concepts that resonated with every other African American child during her time and captures some contemporary struggles of women in modern societies. Her stories are marred with childhood hardships, but they bring forth a life filled with beauty and childhood innocence in equal measure.

   After their parents break up, Angelou and her elder brother, Bailey, are sent off to their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. They assist their grandmother at her store located in the middle of the black community as they learned how to read and do maths. Mooma was not only resourceful but also an established and strong woman in matters of life and business. Although she was instrumental in providing the best parental care and guidance to her grandchildren, Momma could not shield them from the societal monsters. They were still vulnerable to the racial prejudice that was rampant in the south. Together with Bailey, it was only a matter of time before the dangers and hardships that accompanied racial discrimination tumbled on them. They were also made aware of these struggles by the lifestyle that their neighboring communities were going through. For example, Angelou record the plight of black workers who would toil all day during cotton-picking days only to end up deflated, bone-weary, with sore hands.

  Angelou’s take on her grandmother’s views on issues of racism instead appeared confusing and upsetting to her. One of these disturbing moments is captured when she sees a white dentist who refuses to operate on her because she was black. It was ironic because the dentist owned her Momma. This scenario exposes her to prejudice because the dentist says he prefers sticking his hand inside a dog’s mouth rather than hers. Funny enough, equality was seen to only exist during a national crisis as the Great Depression kicked in;

“It was when the owners of cotton fields dropped the payment of ten cents for a pound of cotton to eight, seven, and finally five that the Negro community realized that the Depression, at least, did not discriminate” ( Angelou, 50)

Maya also records another incident where a group of young white women found their way into her grandmother’s store with the sole purpose of racially mocking her. Strangely, she remained quiet and chose to act politely towards them. Maya records how such moments clouded her with anger, dread and frustration. Nevertheless, she would later learn that it was one of Momma’s ways to prepare her for the cruel world by teaching her how to withstand hardship and maintain her actual attributes in the face of these adversities.

Later on, when they are ferried to live with their mother, Maya is exposed to the rape ordeal. She is sexually abused by her mother’s lover, a man she regarded as kind and harmless. On the contrary, Mr. Freeman carries out his heinous act with threats:

Rite, you love Bailey?” He sat down on the bed, and I came close, hoping. “Yes.” He was bending down, pulling on his socks, and his back was so large and friendly I wanted to rest my head on it. If you ever tell anybody what we did, I’ll have to kill Bailey”(Angelou, 74).

His actions left Maya with feelings of confusion, fear as well as guilt. As an innocent child, she could only look for consolation from her mothers’ bedside embrace from her terrible nightmares. 

How Tradition Shaped Angelou’s Life Journey

The legacy of slavery that bore racial discrimination and marginalization was equally critical in shaping Angelou’s life from her childhood through teenage and even adulthood (Pujanes, 2018). Just like in her paternal neighborhood, Maya’s maternal neighborhood was equally not favorable enough for her. The occasional deaths of the blacks and the sadistic display of racism forced Momma and the kids to abandon their homes to find greener pastures in San Francisco (Pujanes, 2018). It was while at George Washington High School that her passion and enthusiasm for learning were manifested. Her talent for dance and drama also came to life (Pujanes, 2018). She would later use these skills to build up her career and ultimately her legacy, which centered on fighting against the oppression of African American women.

Her disappointing summer experience with her father, where his girlfriend stabbed her, also provided a moment of retribution and reevaluation in her life (Pujanes, 2018). She escaped avoiding her mother’s confrontation. While living in the junkyard with other runaways, her self-confidence and wisdom gathered from her childhood days were reawakened. The self-reliance mentality gave her confidence to seek a job in a white-dominated industry (Pujanes, 2018). Amidst disappointments, Angeluo’s persistence and a” never give up” attitude eventually paid off as she became the first black woman to conduct a cable car in San Francisco, earning herself respect in this industry.

Conclusively, the positive energy that Maya cultivated to offset her disappointing traditional practices, which limited her engagement with the white-dominated job market and society, can be attributed to having propelled her to triumph over the many challenges that she would soon experience in her adulthood (Pujanes, 2018). Her ability to find the beauty of life amidst all her struggles and even find solace in laughter presents her unique personal values of resilience, patient, and intelligence. Moreover, it displays the courage and perseverance that lurked within her.

Does Technology Promote Loneliness?

Comparisons of Traditions

Jack Robinson is another unique character who, just like Maya Angelou, traversed through racist injustices to create his legacy. By signing up with a white-dominated professional baseball team, he entered into the history books for being the first African American to do so (Clancey, 2021). Both their racial discrimination experiences exposed them to civil rights movements where they persistently fought for equality and elevation of black lives in their societies. Though both rose to fame through different means and circumstances, equality represented the yoke of oppression faced by most if not all African Americans. In contrast, while it was the courage to stand up to his superior’s prejudice that set off Robinson’s campaign on discrimination against the black people, it was Maya’s childhood hardships that strengthened her to face future adversities. 

The traditional experiences of Robinson are set in an environment where sport conquest was his motivating factor. With such motivation, he rose through the ranks of white dominance to become a renowned star athlete in football, basketball, track, and baseball (Clancey, 2021). On the contrary, Maya’s setup presents an environment where her Momma taught her that it was wiser to stay polite in the face of mockery and wait for justice to find its way (Pujanes, 2018). It is from such an environment that her voice was initially suppressed. Hence, she couldn’t stand up to Mr.Freeman and her father’s girlfriend and chose to run away instead. However, she would later present her story through literature to change society’s view on rape, alienation, and generally race through the lens of a child. Hence,  her childhood struggles stirred the community to action against these vices. Robinson’s actions as a military person to stand up against a racially segregating system during his time was not only a serious offense but also warranted a jailed term (Clancey, 2021). He fought against the segregation of his fellow black soldiers and unequal resource distribution, even if it meant disobeying the military code on insubordination. 

Conclusively, both Maya and Robinson projected the resilience attitude during their inception in their different occupations. Robinson repeatedly fought off the military system that disallowed black soldiers equal rights with their white counterparts to become appointed as a morale officer at Fort Riley. Likewise, Maya, a black woman, relentlessly applied to be a cab driver in a white-dominated industry and won her place and respect from her workmates.   


Works Cited

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou. Spark Notes, 2002. 

Clancey, Erin. “United States V. 2LT Jack R. Robinson.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, 4 Feb. 2021,

Pujas, Kristel M. “Book Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.” The Quarter-Life Experiment, 21 Oct. 2018,


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