In the biography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou describes her coming of age story as a young black girl growing up in the American South during the 1930s and in California during the 1940s. The divorce of Maya’s parents when she was just three years old ended with her and her older brother Bailey being sent to live with their grandmother in rural Stamps, Arkansas.
Their grandmother, Annie Henderson, otherwise known as “Momma” becomes Maya and her brother Bailey’s central role model throughout their childhoods. As young children, Maya and her brother struggle with abandonment issues due to the rejection from their parents. As a child, Maya believed that she was ugly and tormented herself by thinking she would never be equal to the white or the black children.
Growing up in Stamps, Maya faces chronic southern racism which is manifested into daily injustices and terrifying lynch mobs. When Maya is eight, her father unexpectedly arrives in Stamps and takes her and her brother to live with her mother in St.Louis, Missouri.
During her time there, Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend Mr. Freeman who they take to court. Afterwards, Mr. Freeman is violently murdered and Maya believes she is responsible for his death. Maya stops speaking to everyone but her brother Bailey. Maya and Bailey return to Stamps where their grandmother is able to get her to speak again by introducing her to Mrs. Bertha Flowers.
Mrs. Flowers tells Maya to read works of literature out loud, giving her books of poetry that help her to regain her voice. During these years back in Stamps, Maya becomes aware of both the strength and fragility of her community as she endures several terrible incidents that teach her about the nature of racism. These appalling occurrences make the children’s grandmother fear for their well being so she saves money for them to move back with their mother who now lives in California. When her mother remarries to a positive father figure, they move to San Francisco, which is the first place Maya has ever felt at home.
During a stay with her father and his girlfriend one summer, Maya runs away after a fight with her father’s girlfriend and stays with a group of homeless teemagers behind a junkyard. She returns to San Francisco strong and confident and soon becomes the first black streetcar conductor at age fifteen. At age sixteen, Maya becomes pregnant and hides the pregnancy from her family for eight months and graduates highschool.
The novel ends as Maya begins to feel self assured as a mother to her newborn son. From this novel I learned several lessons. First, I learned the power literature has to heal people. Without this power, future generations would have missed Maya Angelou’s inspiring words. Another thing I learned from this novel is how essential having a confidant is. The importance of a confidant is shown several times throughout the novel from Maya’s confidant Bailey, her brother who basically got her through life.
Throughout the novel there were several excerpts that were important to the overall story. As Maya begins to tell the story of where she grew up in Stamps, Arkansas she states that “the segregation was so complete that most black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like.” (page 25) This specific excerpt is extremely significant to the overall story because it illustrates how racism was during this time period. This quote shows that because the two races barely cross paths, no acceptance is developed between the races.
It shows how black and white people do not acknowledge one another as people. During the novel, when Maya is sexually assaulted by her step father, Mr. Freeman for the first time she says “This was probably my real father and we had found each other at last.” (page 72 ).
This quote is very important to the overall story because it shows how Maya fails to see how wrong Mr. Freemans actions were because of the lack of affection she receives from her family. The lack of parental love that Maya receives leaves her an easy target to be preyed on. Moving farther into the novel, when Maya is introduced to Mrs. Flowers, an educated black woman, Maya says Mrs Flowers “opened the first page [of the book] and I heard poetry for the first time in my life.” (page 112).
This specific excerpt is important to the novel because Maya’s love for poetry continues after this throughout her childhood and early adulthood. This ultimately set the stage for her to become a world-famous poet.
Overall, after reading this novel I found it very inspirational. Maya Angelou’s coming of age story was very powerful and made me grateful for the life I have today. Maya Angelou’s hardships that she endured throughout her life shaped her into the very notable woman that she is today. Knowing that she was able to overcome all of her struggles and became a very successful independent woman is very motivational.