I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a Symbolic Call for Peace and Freedom


Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a 1969 autobiography about the early years of author Maya Angelou’s life. It is about the repression of the African American race, she uses her coming-of-age story to illustrate the ways in which racism and trauma can be overcome by a strong character and a love of literature. As a young black woman growing up in the South, and later in war time San Francisco, Maya Angelou faced racism from whites and poor treatment from many men.

You may read the analysis of the poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings here.

The poem itself an appealing call for the world divided by color of the skin and racism. Maya Angelou points out the necessity of equal opportunities and recognition in order to bridge peace and freedom among communities. As visible, Angelou utilizes her own life experiences to show how the past America was divided into two communities mainly based on color of the skin and inferiority vs superiority. Through the poem she urges to expose the injustice which made one community considered as superior and one community inferior.

Violation of mobility in the social ladder unarguably causes one to feel inferior. This is visible in the poem through the juxtaposition of inequality of opportunities, showing that has created the gap between black Americans and white Americans debarring peace and understanding.

“The free bird thinks of another breeze…/and the fat worms are waiting on a dawn-bright lawn”

“But caged bird stands on the grave of dreams/ his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream.”

As poem reveals, while one community thinks of possibilities of better choices in his comfort zone, the other suffers without having almost nothing. This disparity has obviously created jealousy, hatred and desperation towards the upper from bottom. The Black Americans might have felt inferior in their own backyard of life. This definitely might have created a prolonged disruption of peace between two communities. Angelou urges to show this reality through her poem and requests the superior parties to feel empathetic about the inferior.

He poetry is a peaceful mode to deliver the message to the oppressors. The art always acts as a peaceful and powerful mode of protest and a way of spreading love and to deliver the message peacefully throughout the globe.

“his wings are clipped and his feet are tied/

so he opens his throat to sing.”

As poem reveals, the social fetters laid upon the minority is visualized through the words ‘his wings are clipped and his feet are tied.’ It is an artistic portrayal to show how the black Americans’ freedom was limited by laying restrictions and clipping off the freedom. Wings are a symbol of freedom and clipping off them delivers the disturbing picture of their deprival of rights. However, the mode they selected to protest against is art: ‘so he opens his throat to sing’ not the violence; that is a symbolic call for peace in a peaceful manner. Their voice is spreading over ‘distant hill’ suggests that it is a strong mode to deliver the message of peace and their voice reached to every part of the world. That is an evidence to prove that the art is peaceful and yet it is powerful mode to impart a message.

The poet revealing of the sufferings caused due to nonrecognition is obviously an eye opener to the world showing the fact that a world without equal opportunities can disrupt the peace fanning the embers of hatred resulting everlasting wars and sufferings.   

“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams/

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream.”

“But a bird that stalks…/

can seldom see through

his bars of rage.”

As poet reveals the caged bird has lost his hopes for a better life. The metaphor ‘grave of dreams’ suggests the doom of their better future and it seemingly suggests that they have already buried their hopes for the future. The ‘shadow’ shouting on ‘a nightmare scream’ is a graphic example of their fear about their future. Shadow is a symbolic call for powerlessness and the representation of the inferior party in the country. Its shouting on a nightmare is a poignant picture revealing their sufferings. It urges the reader to be empathetic about the apartheid. Angelou reveals how they feel about discrimination and how it widens the gap between the two communities. The caged bird being unable to ‘see through his bars of rage’ shows how anger and rage worsen the matter. The poet seemingly requests both the parties to come to a middle path to have a peaceful solution.

The attempt of the poet has obviously resulted positively. By looking at the contemporary America, there is almost no segregation between black and white Americans. It must have come through understanding and peaceful attempts. Therefore, it is clear that artistic attempts like the poem I Know why the Caged Bird Sings are peaceful and symbolic calls for peace and freedom.

The world still needs peace and reconciliation as it is being torn apart due to hatred and segregation. The art helps people to understand and be empathetic about the fellow human beings as it is a universal language. The poets like Maya Angelou have used the art to call for peace and freedom using their artistic language.

What is your idea about the topic? Has the poet been successful in delivering the message to the world strong? Please leave a comment below to enrich this post. Share the post if you find it useful to others. And further, this post is not written to criticize any community but mainly for academic purposes.      


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