One of my favorite activities is reading, so I headed to one of my favorite book stores, Half Price Book store to update my Summer Reading List. I picked up this famous autobiography along with Their Eyes Were Watching God for a great price. I have heard great things about Maya Angelou for years but had never read a book by her before, reading this book is definitely overdue. Disclaimer: This is a book review, so I will reveal events in the book if you haven’t already read it.
“This testimony from a black sister marks the beginning of a new era in the minds and hearts and lives of all black men and women.”-James Baldwin
In this coming of age autobiography Maya Angelou discusses her life with her brother Bailey while living in Stamps, Arkansas with their grandmother. At such a young age Marguerite (Maya) deals with discrimination, racism, abandonment and belonging. In the mid 1930s there is a great division among the blacks and whites. One of the stories that deeply resonated with me, was when Maya had to see a doctor due to a toothache. She travels with her grandmother to the white part of town, where her grandmother knows a white dentist that owes her a favor. When they knock on the door,the dentist surprised to see them there tries to politely dismiss them from his doorstep. When Maya’s Grandmother becomes persistent the dentist says “I would rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than a N______”. This is a prominent example of how life was back during those times, racial tensions were high and blacks were treated with disregard.
A couple years later, Maya and her brother Bailey are briefly reunited with their Dad and relocate to St.Louis Mississippi to stay with their mother. During this time, Maya is introduced to a new life filled with alcohol, cussing, violence and her mother’s live-in boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. Like a true predator, Mr.Freeman takes advantage of Maya and rapes her on several occasions with no remorse. Mr. Freeman ends up dying at the hands of Maya’s uncles. For thousands of girls, a Mr.Freeman exists in their life, a predator with a sickening desire for young children. In this moment, Angelou is never the same but continues to survive.
Years later, Angelou and her brother live with their mother and her boyfriend, Daddy Clidell in New York. In New York Angelou struggles to find her way and must confront her fears of feeling abandoned by her father Through her time in New York, Angelou starts to define who she wants to be. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ends on a note of hope after Maya delivers her first child at 16. As a young mother Maya feared rolling over her baby boy in her sleep, only to awaken to find her boy in the same position unharmed. These wise words from Maya’s mother beautifully wrap up Angelou’s autobiography.
“See, you don’t have to think about doing the right thing. If you’re for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.”-Vivian Jackson (Maya’s mother)
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an inspiration and a testimony to life and love.