Free sample essay on Maya Angelou:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, is of great value to not only myself, but to society as a whole. By portraying her own life through the book, she is able to convey the difficulties associated with the mixture of racial and gender discrimination dealt with by young, Southern black girls. At the same time, she touches on subjects from child abuse to the search for one’s purpose in life.
Maya wastes no time plunging into the controversy of racial discrimination within the first few pages of her book. As a child, Maya feels an intense sense of displacement as a black girl and when her “Momma” sews her a new Sunday dress, Maya believes this will be her chance to fit in with the genteel, white girls. When the dress is finished, Maya believes it is nothing more than a “white woman throw-away” and she is forced to conclude that she will always be an ugly black child who could never measure up to the pretty white girls. The racist society that existed around Maya as a child had her convinced that she could be nothing more than a poor black girl in a white man’s world.
Throughout the book, Maya Angelou endures incidents that not only teach her , but also the reader, about the horrible nature of racism. One such incident was when Mrs. Cullinan’s condescendingly renamed Maya to suit her own preferences. Maya proved that, as a black girl, she did not have to tolerate Mrs. Cullinan’s discrimination and she resisted by smashing some of her employer’s fine china. Maya witnessed another bout with racism when a local white dentist refused to treat her and claimed he would rather stick his hand in a dogs mouth. Also, at Maya’s eighth grade graduation, Mr. Donleavy, a white guest speaker, spoke of a black individual’s limited potential in their racist society and embarrassed the entire black community. Henry Reed, the valedictorian, stood and led the graduates into the black national anthem, demonstrating the great pride blacks have in their heritage. In each situation, Maya, individually or with her entire black community, overcame racism and proved she was not below the white race. She displayed that, regardless of a person’s skin color, a young girl can develop into a strong and independent woman. Maya showed everyone that, although she was surrounded by white bigots, she could raise above the racists and become a confident and successful black girl.
Besides racism, Maya also speaks to many issues, such as relationships between parents and children and child abuse. Maya’s parents abandoned her as a very young girl and Maya turns out growing up in one of the most segregated and racist areas of the country, the deep south. Maya feels very alone and wonders why her real mother left her, forcing her to isolate herself at a young age. As Maya’s mother becomes a part of her life again, the sense of displacement disappears and she develops into a confident young woman, portraying the importance of a strong parent to child relationship.
The book is important to me because it shows that regardless of all the problems thrown at a person while growing up, it is possible to prevail over these obstacles and become a confident and successful adult. Maya was able to become the first black streetcar conductor at the ripe age of fifteen, a huge success that, at the time, seemed virtually impossible. After running away from her father’s girlfriend Dolores, Maya finds herself among the homeless. Fending for herself taught Maya to be strong and self-assured and she survived living on her own, proving once again that, if you put your mind to it, everything is possible. Finally, Maya overcame one of the greatest hardships of life, being pregnant, and she developed even more confidence as a mother.
Maya confronts her own life with great dignity and proves that a young black girl can survive and become successful, even through the racist conditions that existed in the 1930’s-1950’s.