December 9, 2010
Themes of Racism and Segregation in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
By Maya Angelou The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze the novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Specifically it will discuss the themes of racism and segregation, and how these strong themes are woven throughout this moving autobiography. Maya Angelou recounts the story of her early life, including the racism and segregation she experiences throughout her formative years. With wit, sincerity, and remarkable talent, Angelou portrays racism as a product of ignorance and prejudice. However, she finds the strength to rise above this crippling condition.
…show more content…
Befriended by Mrs. Bertha Flowers, Angelou learns to appreciate even more learning, literature, and manners, and understands that these are the keys to leaving the poverty of the rural South behind. She says of Flowers, "She was one of the few gentlewomen I have ever known, and has remained throughout my life the measure of what a human being can be" (Angelou 91). Flowers taught her to appreciate many things, including the value of an education, and when she graduates from high school, it is a time of celebration for the entire community. Angelou writes, "Mrs. Sneed, the minister's wife, made me an undershirt to wear for graduation, and nearly every customer gave me a nickel or maybe even a dime with the instruction 'Keep on moving to higher ground,' or some such encouragement" (Angelou 169). The other blacks understand this too, but sadly, due to racism and prejudice, many blacks could not gain a decent education during this time, and in turn were doomed to low paying jobs that would not take them anywhere. Angelou notices this in St. Louis, where the educational gap is even more pronounce than in Stamps. Many black children could not even read or write, even though they attended school. Scattered throughout the book are so many small acts by whites that seem innocuous, but in reality only add to Angelou's rage. These actions are shown to be unimportant to the whites. It also shows just how little they think of the blacks. One woman refuses to call