12 April 2001
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya endures many trials as she moves from place to place, but whenever she finds herself back in Stamps she knows she is home. Growing up in the rural segregated south, Maya encounters many obstacles such as prejudice and racism. Stacked upon all her other problems Maya copes by not allowing these negative influences to keep her caged. She is very much not free to live the life of most young adults, because the world has chosen to fence her environment. Maya s only hope is for one day to be set free and leave for a better place.
A day that should have been a proud achievement for Maya, her Graduation Day, turns into an event, which contributes to her feeling caged. Graduation morning is exciting and fulfilling for Maya. She feels proud of herself for her accomplishments; it was a dream of a day (Angelou175). Maya was as happy and full of life this morning is all she wanted it to be and more. It s evident that everything is perfect for Maya; Angelou writes, I hoped the memory of that morning would never leave (175).
At the graduation ceremony the parents and students are told of a guest speaker. The speaker is presented and in walks a white man, named Mr. Donleavy. At the beginning of his speech Mr. Donleavy begins by expressing, that he is glad to be here and to see the work going on just as it was in the other schools (Angelou178). Mr. Donleavy continues his speech, Angelou writes, He went on to praise us. Assured our parents that if he won for election we could count on having the only colored paved playing field in that part of Arkansas, – also, we were bound to get some equipment for home economics building and the workshop (181). What Mr. Donleavy was implying was that the black students would not amount to anything. This devastates Maya, the other children, and the parents. It is evident the prejudice was aimed at the school and the children. A feeling of worthlessness not only for herself, her intelligence, and her classmates displaced Maya s feeling of achievement.
Maya also encounters prejudice when she attempts to see a white dentist. Maya has two cavities that were rotten to the gum , she can t take the pain so Momma decides to take her to the white dentist, she said he owed her a factor (186). Maya will witness yet another incident that involves racism. They arrive at the dentist s office and Momma asks to see Dentist Lincoln. Momma asks, It s my grandbaby here. She got two rotten teeth that s giving her a fit (188). The dentist didn t treat colored people and was very adamant in explaining to Momma that he didn t treat blacks. Dentist Lincoln says, Annie, you know I don t treat nigra, colored people (Angelou188). Momma kept on insisting, but the dentist did not change his mind he harshly said to her, Annie, my policy is I d rather stick my hand in a dog s mouth than in a nigger s (Angelou189). Maya witnessed first hand the stupidity involved in degrading her race, and what on a daily basis occurs throughout the segregated south.
In an article by Sidonie A. Smith, she writes, The black community of Stamps is itself caged in the social reality of racial subordination and impotence s and There is a contained ness in this environment called Stamps, which controls the girl s sense of displacement, the contained ness of a safe way of life, a hard way of life, but a known way of life and Stamps giver her back the familiarity and security of a well known cage