Maya Angelou was a civil rights activist, author, and poet. She wrote many books and poems that conveyed the vivid experiences in her life. Maya Angelou’s works are well known and she is an eminent writer. One poem in particular that is well known is “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” written in 1969. In this work she described racial inequality, and the lack of freedom African Americans experienced in the 1930’s and 40’s. Maya Angelou uses many Rhetorical strategies and literary devices to describe the lack of racial freedom in the world at this time.
Maya Angelou is a leader by example, she sets the standard by her actions and the stories she tells teaches the audience a lesson. Majority of her work is to inform us of the past and she wants us to learn from her experiences in life; she is a life teacher. The purpose of this poem was to inform us of the history of our country. The poem is titled “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and her purpose of writing this is to teach the reader why the caged bird sings. Maya Angelou wants to put the reader in her shoes to get the ultimate experience of racial inequality but instead by taking the role of a caged bird or a free bird.
The audience of this poem are the people who want to learn about how America was during segregation. Teachers have taught us what they have been told to teach. However, Angelou has lived through this time and has experienced segregation. She is a credible person and can tell you more about the sensitive side we don’t learn about. Angelou is painting a picture of America in the 40’s with this poem. “On the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom” this quote from stanza 3 shows how separated the racial groups were. The African Americans watch from a distance the free white Americans and cries a song for the freedom that they have.
Symbolism is a big part of this poem. Maya Angelou uses a caged bird to symbolize African- American’s who were neglected of their freedom. She compares the caged bird to a free bird which is symbolized as white Americans. “But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage.” Angelou uses the cage to represent the limited freedom of African Americans during the time period. While “the free bird thinks of another breeze and he trade winds soft through the sighing trees.” She shows how privileged the free bird is to just go with the wind and take advantage of the opportunities a free bird has. While the caged bird is confined to his cage and he has nothing to do but but sing. The caged bird sings of wondering wat it is like to be a free bird. Angelou uses symbolism to teach us the harsh reality of America at the time.
Angelou’s use of diction shows the comparison of the life of a caged bird and a free bird. Her usage of diction “seldom,” shows that at the time it was quite difficult for African Americans to branch out of the social boundaries they were put in. In stanza 3 Angelou uses the words fearful, unknown, longed, and distant as compared to stanza 4 she uses the words free, soft, fat worms, and bright. This shows the contrast between the two social realms and the emotions that came about through their different conditions. Diction is important when writing because it is a way the author can set the tone of their piece of writing. These words can definitely trigger images in your mind and appeal to your emotions.
Angelou uses pathos in her poem to appeal to the audience’s emotions. She wants the audience to feel what was felt by African-American’s at that time period. Angelou first describes the free bird in the first stanza. “The free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends.” She describes how free the bird is. The bird is free to do whatever they want and she makes their life seem joyous and privileged. And later in the stanza, she says “…and dares to claim the sky.” This bird has the ultimate freedom and the highest confidence to feel they are able to do whatever they can with endless possibilities.
Reading this stanza can make you feel a sense of freedom and you feel happy for this free bird. Then, the next stanza describes the caged bird. “But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage.” In this line she describes the bird has no freedom. The bird has been restricted to stay in this cage and cannot see through the bar which is keeping him from being free. While comparing the free bird and the caged bird can appeal to the audience’s emotions because of the huge gap of freedom.
The use of rhyme is also present in this poem. “…with fearful trill of the things unknown but longed for still.” This is a poem about something very serious so too much rhyme may make it seem childish. However, Angelou uses just enough to make it relate to the title, which is about a caged birds song. While reading this poem the rhyme can make the reader feel they are singing as the caged bird is. It can appeal to your emotions and puts you in the position of the caged bird. Angelou gives you the experience of segregation through this poem, even through the use of rhyme.