Facing Adversity in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Bigotry, human suffering, and doubt; these adversities, in all forms, can trap even the most strong-willed of birds into a suffocating cage. It was mostly here where Maya Angelou experiences her life, gazing at the world within the restricting bars of her “cage”. But although her body, mind, and soul becomes downtrodden under the ‘accepted” biases of her time, she manages to break free from her oppression with her unflinching courage and persistence, opening her cage and soaring far in the sky, now able to fulfill her dreams. And with this unforeseen victory did she sing, loud for those who have not yet broken free. In the end, she prevails triumphantly and her adversities become a thing of the past.
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Early in her life was Maya greatly exposed to bigotry: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unneccessary insult.” (Angelou, Preface) She knew that being black wasn’t a good thing during her time, and that knowing she was black made her feel worse. She’s been so influenced by the way people look towards blacks that she feels extremely self-concious. It was a great adversity for her from a young age on to understand that people did not accept the her color and race. But after living “underneath” the white man, Maya Angelou could not tolerate it any longer. Upon asking for a job as a trolley driver, she was rejected by the white secretary because she was black, but persistence and hope eventually paid off when she finally was accepted and hired. She didn’t care about the pay, but knowing she could get something as a black woman even though a white tried to stop her seemed like a personal win.
Another adversity in her life was suffering. She experienced suffering first-hand when Mr. Freeman raped her:
Then there was a pain. A breaking and entering when even the senses are torn apart. The act of rape on an eight-year-old body is a matter of the needle giving because the camel can’t. The child gives, because the body can, and the mind of the violator cannot. (Angelou, p.78)
Before this horrible tragedy, Mr. Freeman threatened Maya that if she told anyone about this crime he would kill Bailey. Maya accepted for the guarantee of Bailey’s safety. In this quote, Maya explains that the rape changed her, and that what her body gave was not enough for “the mind of the violator.” Later in her life would she turn back to ths experience and assume the rape was the reason why she couldn’t experience sexual love, such as when she seduced a young man:
“Thanks to Mr. Freeman nine years before, I had had no pain of entry to endure, and because of the absence of romantic involvement neither of us felt much had happened.” (Angelou, p.282)
She felt there wasn’t a reason for intimacy, but when she gave birth, she changed her mind. Her baby inspired her, and afterward suffering didn’t mean much to her.
Finally, one of her life’s true adversities was doubt. In much of her life, she never fully understood what would happen. When she heard from her parents through their exchange of Christmas gifts, she couldn’t help but doubt whether or not they would come back to raise them as their kids: “The gifts opened the door to questions that neither of us wanted to ask. Why did they send us away? and What did we do wrong?” (Angelou, p.53) She never understood at the time, but later on when they moved in with their mother dd they find out they had a divorce.
When Maya Angelou took the seat of the wheel of her father’s car when Daddy Bailey was intoxicated, she doubted if she would be able to drive through the curved roads up and down the mountain. But after a few jolts and bumps she got used to the wheel. When in doubt, she figured a little adrenaline could go a long way.
Throughout her life, she encountered much adversity. Civil unrest and racism scarred her existence. But empowered with the voice of an angel, she tamed even the most powerful of beasts with her sharp tongue. Her book acted as a sword that would be used to slay the beast that is bigotry. Her life inspired millions. Suffering and doubt used to bar her inside her cage, but she refused to be imprisoned and with her hope and perseverance did she escape. A free woman in an unforgiving world, she sang with all her might through each written page, hoping at least one person who listen to her call. Indeed did many respond. Overcoming adversity is a honorable thing and when she did, the people acknowledged it. She overcame adversity by not only completing the task, but learned and taught others from it. The novel is a giant teaching, and the words she expressed changed the world. When she was caged, she wouldn’t even think of being heard. But you don’t ave to be powerful to be heard. You just have to sing hard enough.