I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Published: 1969




I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is a 1969 autobiography of the first 16 years of her life.

I really struggled with this book.  I started and stopped reading this many times.  It wasn’t the writing.  That was good, and is one of the things she is known for.  Her story was…boring.  It was just too detailed.  Long.  Yes, she had a tragic childhood.  Born in 1928, and abandoned by her parents when she was 3, she and her brother Bailey are tossed back and forth between their grandmother and their mother.  At age 8 she was back with her mother in St. Louis, where she was raped by one of her mother’s boyfriends.  They got sent back to their grandmother.  Then she got sent to her mother again in California, and on a trip with her father at age 15, she had a fight with her stepmother, and instead of asking for help, lives with a bunch of homeless kids in a junkyard for a month.  She finally calls her Mom, and goes back to live with her.  At age 16, with a distorted view of herself, she thinks she’s a lesbian, so she has sex with a boy and immediately gets pregnant.  Now all of that sounds interesting, but the way it was told…..just too long.

The main criticism that a lot of people have with this book is the detailed rape and sex scenes.  Personally I found them to be mild.  My biggest problem was that it seemed to move so slowly.  I don’t have any idea why I’m giving it 3 stars, except that so many people have found it so good, that I must be missing something.

Angelou has written six other autobiographies.  I will not be reading them.  She may have written in the first-person, but her thoughts were not of an 8-year old or even 16-year old child.  They were definitely adult.  If you check her website, it does not specify that this is an autobiography, it is classified as poetry.

So, next time I decide to read a book because “it’s a classic”, and “everybody should read it”…. No.

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.
                                     – Lawrence Dunbar, Sympathy


Favorite Quote from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

“I believe most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.”


Read: October 2016


About the Author:    Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in 1928,  Maya Angelou became a powerful figure in the Civil Rights Movement.  She is known for her six or seven autobiographies, poetry, children’s books and cook books.  She received many awards and over 50 honorary degrees.  She lectured widely.  She died in 2014.


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