I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou 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.

Glossary

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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