“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.”—James Baldwin.
Maya Angelou wrote this autobiographical coming-of-age story, a bildungsroman, narrating the harsh vicissitudes of a young black American girl, Maya. When Maya is three, her mother sends her and her brother Bailey to live with their grandmother in a small Southern town, where they encounter abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old, she comes back to her mother in St. Louis, where a man abuses her, in reaction to which follow years of muteness. The power of words scares young Maya, while the belief in the positive power of language will make her able to speak again.
Years later, in San Francisco, she learns how to nourish her spirit with self-love, kindness, and the help of good literature. Freedom and literacy are connected, as Maya makes use of literature to cope with her traumas, make sense of her world and finds the courage to sing, despite the imprisoning conditions of life she experiences.
A similar story is The Autobiography of Malcolm X where Malcolm X tells of his journey from a prison cell to Mecca. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a letter from the author to his son where he tells the story of his awakening to the truth of his place in the world, from imprisonment to liberation.
Maya Angelou was one of the first African American women who were able to discuss her personal life. Up until that point, Black women writers had been marginalized to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters. The reader can hear Maya singing, through her use of natural metaphors, rhythms, intonations, and irony.