why the caged bird sings explanation

Angelou also wrote an autobiography with a similar title, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This title had great significance to Angelou, as it was the title of her entire life story. In her autobiography, she talked about the struggle of being a Black author and poet. She often felt that her words were not heard because of the color of her skin and sought to express her experience and that of others in her contemporary moment through the lines of this text.

‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou is an incredibly important poem in which the poet describes the experience of two different birds, one free and one caged.

The free bird flies around the wind currents, feeling like the sky belongs to him. On the other hand, the caged bird can barely move in its prison. It’s angry and frustrating. Its wings are clipped, and its feet are tied together. All it can do is sing fearfully of what it wants and does not know. It sings for its freedom, and everyone, even far distant, can hear its song.

All the while, the free bird is focused on the breeze, the sounds the trees make, and the words in the ground he’s planning on eating. Once more, the speaker reiterates the fact that the bird feels as though it owns the sky. The poem concludes with the caged bird singing once more as the poet repeats the third stanza in its entirety.

‘Caged Bird’ is filled with powerful themes. These include racial oppression, freedom/captivity, and happiness/sorrow. These themes are all wrapped together in ‘Caged Bird’ through Angelou’s depiction of the two birds, one free and one caged.

The caged bird is an extended metaphor for the Black community in America and worldwide. Angelou is alluding to the lived experience of millions of men, women, and children since the beginning of time and the variety of oppressive tactics, whether physical, mental, or economic, employed by those in power.

Black men, women, and children see “through…bars” while the free bird sores in the sky. The bird sings from a place of sadness rather than joy to convey a broader history of sorrow.

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What Does the Caged Bird Symbolize?

In the memoir, the caged bird represents the oppression of racism and gender discrimination she experienced as a young child. The cage stands in for Maya’s sense of imprisonment during a period of strict segregation laws, particularly in the south, as a Black American. Maya imagines herself as the imprisoned bird, yearning to fly but being restrained by injustice and hatred. Maya discovers early in life that discrimination permeates every aspect of her life—while growing up in segregated Arkansas, Black Americans are denied the same opportunities and rights as White Americans, and women are denied the same rights as men. Maya’s mother and grandmother, two strong women in her life, teach her that achieving her dream of becoming an author will require tenacity and determination.

The bird in Dunbar’s poem sings a lovely song despite being caged. For Maya, the decision to carry on singing represents the necessity of holding onto hope that she will eventually overcome the obstacles she encountered as a child in order to fulfill her dreams. At the age of seven, Maya experiences sexual assault at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, leaving her traumatized. Maya chooses to go silent for five years because she feels that she is partly to blame for the attacks and her uncles’ subsequent murder of him. During this time, she is mentored by Mrs. Flowers, a friend of her grandmother. Maya discovers the love of literature and poetry from Mrs. Angelou learns how to read, write, and comprehend poetry from Flowers. Maya’s love of language and poetry allows her to persevere and thrive through her writing and “singing.”

The lavender taffeta Easter dress is a symbol of transformation. Maya notices as a young girl that genuine beauty appears to be reserved for white women. She imagines that by donning the lovely Easter dress, she will change into a white girl with blue eyes and blonde hair. When she discovers the dress is actually a throwaway for white women and that she will never be able to alter how other people perceive her, her hopes are dashed. She then perceives the dress as a representation of unachievable beauty and worries that she will never be able to match it in terms of beauty. Her early exposure to the harsh realities of acceptance serves as a preparation for the challenges she will face later in life. Maya eventually realizes that genuine beauty and transformation can only come from within.

Maya’s Christmas present from Santa is a doll, which represents abandonment. After a while of living with their grandmother, Maya and Bailey receive Christmas gifts in the mail from their mother, who resides in California. Since Maya and Bailey haven’t seen their mother in a long time, they believe their parents are deceased until the gifts show up. Consequently, Maya finds the doll to be an agonizing reminder that her parents have abandoned her and don’t want her. The following day, Maya and Bailey tear the doll’s stuffing out, further illustrating this feeling of rejection. This deed represents the “hole” her mother’s abandonment has left in her life.

Maya’s grandmother owns the General Store in Stamps, Arkansas, which is a representation of strength and authority. Momma runs a very successful store at a time when very few Black Americans, let alone Black women, own businesses. The store serves as a hub for social interaction among the community’s Black residents. Few people of color have the power and relative freedom that Maya Angelous has thanks to her extraordinary accomplishments. It is evidence of the community’s dedication and allegiance as well as of her own fortitude and resolve. Maya spends a lot of time in her mother’s store, which she adores, until she moves out when she is thirteen.

Stamps, like most small towns in the South at the time, is characterized by racism, segregation, and poverty. The town of Stamps is a representation of the oppression and terror that Black people in the South experience. Maya is indoctrinated from a young age, learning at an early age that white people are to be avoided and feared. Momma, the proprietor of the General Store, has to put up with the animosity and contempt from the white community. Maya understands that a Black person is never really safe in Stamps; in fact, their decision to relocate to San Francisco was sparked by the possibility of violence against Bailey.

San Francisco is a symbol of beauty and freedom for Maya. Following their departure from Stamps, Maya and Bailey move to San Francisco to live with their mother. Compared to the South, San Francisco is far more accepting and progressive toward Black Americans. Before moving to California, Maya imagines her parents’ home as a gorgeous, sunny “heaven.” Maya still experiences racism and discrimination, but she also enjoys greater freedom and opportunities than she would have in Arkansas. For instance, Maya is tenacious in her attempts to impress the interviewers when she sets her sights on becoming a streetcar conductor, and she eventually becomes the first Black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. After experiencing a sense of accomplishment and freedom, Maya comes to understand that she is free to be who she is and pursue her dream of becoming a writer.

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Symbolism is a literary device wherein an author represents an abstract idea or concept with a tangible object in order to help the reader connect with the text and comprehend the story’s meaning more fully. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s 1969 memoir about her upbringing in segregated America in the 1930s and 1940s, is filled with numerous potent instances of symbolism. The poem “Sympathy,” penned in 1899 by Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of Angelous’s favorite authors, is referenced in the book’s title. In the memoir, the caged bird represents the racism and discrimination Maya experienced as a young Black American growing up in an era of strict segregation laws. The bird’s decision to carry on singing represents Maya’s capacity to hold onto her belief that she will endure, get past these obstacles, and thrive in order to realize her dreams. Other powerful symbols in the memoir are:

  • The Easter dress represents Maya’s journey from feeling inadequate due to the dress’s unachievable beauty to realizing that real beauty and transformation originate from within.
  • The doll that Maya and her brother received as a Christmas present represents their parents’ early abandonment and subsequent forced adoption by their grandmother. The doll serves as a painful reminder that her parents abandoned her and didn’t want her.
  • At a time when few Black Americans had the opportunity, Momma (Maya’s grandmother) owned and operated a successful store; the General Store in Stamps, Arkansas, is a testament to her strength and power. This achievement demonstrates her resilience and will to face oppression head-on.
  • A representation of Black Americans’ oppression and terror in the South is the town of Stamps. Because of their poverty, racism, and segregation, the Black residents of Stamps always fear violence.
  • Because San Francisco is far more accepting and progressive toward Black Americans than the South, it is a symbol of freedom and beauty. Maya believes she has the freedom to pursue her dream of becoming a writer in San Francisco.

The book itself serves as a symbol of Maya’s tenacity in overcoming the prejudice, mistreatment, and neglect she experienced as well as her development into one of the 20th century’s most renowned writers.

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There are many ways to communicate a message or tell a story without explicitly saying it. Thats where symbols come in. Symbols, such as people, things, colors, or even everyday objects, can aid writers in giving ideas and concepts more depth, whether in books or motion pictures.

There is no exception to Maya Angelous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In fact, the title itself contains three examples of symbolism: the cage denotes oppression or confinement, the bird represents freedom or the desire for freedom, and Even the act of singing highlights the author’s capacity to develop and thrive in spite of her obstacles.

Naturally, this story contains a plethora of additional symbols, which leads us to this lesson. Lets take a look at a few.

Our first symbol appears early in the narrative—the Easter dress. Angelou has been dreaming of this dress’ magical abilities for a very long time. I wanted to appear like one of those adorable little white girls who were the epitome of everything that was good in the world.

Even though the Easter dress is made of lavender taffeta, Angelou believes that it symbolizes a change in her perception of beauty—being a little white girl with long, blonde hair and light-blue eyes. However, the dress was revealed by Easter’s early morning light to be an ugly cut-down from a white woman’s once-purple throwaway.

The first harsh reality the author presents to us is the knowledge that the dress will not change her. She believes the dress will transform her into something she can never have because she cannot accept herself as she is right now. In reality, transformation only comes from within.

A doll that the mother of Angelou’s abandonment sends as a Christmas gift is another symbol. Once more, the doll is white with blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and yellow hair painted on her head, so Maya struggles with the idea that beauty equals being white. So, she is faced with another reminder about unattainable beauty.

But the doll also symbolizes abandonment. Up until then, Angelou was certain her parents had passed away. However, the doll serves as a somber reminder of how they left Angelic life. She tells the story of how, one Christmas, our parents, who lived apart in a paradise called California, gave us gifts and told us they could eat all the oranges they wanted. And the sun shone all the time.

It’s appropriate that the day after Christmas, Bailey and I ripped the doll’s stuffing out, just a few paragraphs later. Even the act of dismantling the doll has symbolic meaning: it represents the dismantling of the mother-child bond.

The grocery store that Angelou adored was owned and run by her benevolent grandmother, Annie Henderson. The Store was my favorite place to hang out until I was thirteen and moved away from Arkansas permanently. It appeared deserted and empty in the mornings, like an unopened gift from an unknown person. Pulling the ribbon on the surprise gift was like opening the front doors.

Of course, it was unusual for a black woman to own a business during this time of racial tension and segregation. In Angelous’s imagination, the general store stood for the influence her grandmother had in the neighborhood as well as personally. It might also represent strength or success—two S words—like the S on Superman’s chest.

The store serves as a gathering place for the black community and is a prominent setting in the book. It became the lay center of activities in town. In that sense, it provides Angelou with the family or sense of belonging that she lacked when her parents were away.

Caged Bird Metaphor

Maya Angelou employs two bird metaphors in her poem “Caged Bird.” The free bird represents white Americans or all individuals who are free and have equal rights. The bird in a cage serves as a metaphor for or a symbol of Black Americans who are oppressed and kept captive by racist laws.


What is the meaning behind the caged bird sings?

The cage and bird are used as metaphors of a person being held and subjected to social stigma, racism, and oppression. Without a way out, this is the normal life for a black woman in the segregated south. She feels like life is a cage and she is the bird, unable to get out but sings anyway.

What is the central idea of why the caged bird sings?

Maya Angelou wrote this autobiography in response to the abuse that she endured as a child. She used the metaphor of a caged bird to express that even though she had suffered abuse, she would survive by fighting back, just as the caged bird still sings even thought it is broken.

What is the main point of the caged bird?

Maya Angelou’s ‘Caged Bird’ strongly evokes the message of protest about the inequality between Blacks and Whites during Segregation in American history. It echoes the emotion within such a horrible experience, and it illustrates the oppression of the Blacks in contrast with the freedom of the Whites.

What is the message of caged bird?

The poem conveys a message of hope and of the power of self-expression – the caged bird’s tune of freedom is heard “on the distant hill,” so his tune is powerful enough to be heard in the distance. His singing leads others to hear and acknowledge his sorrow and longing for freedom. so he opens his throat to sing.