I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
“I will not allow anybody to minimize my life, not anybody, not a living soul- nobody, no lover, no mother, no son, no boss, no president, no body.” (Maya Angelou) In Maya Angelous I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, she, Maya, tells the reader about the challenges and praises throughout her life. She gets across to the reader that the number of things that have occurred to her in her life will never add up to make her feel unworthy. Because Angelou is a “spirited journalist”, (pg.5) she was inspired to begin writing I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by a meeting with novelist James Baldwin, Random House Editor Robert Loomis, and cartoonist Jules Feiffer and his wife, Judy, in 1970. After the inspiration arose, Angelou began her “rigid work on yellow legal pads” (pg. 9) where she let her ideas flow. The content of those legal pads resulted in a bestseller, of which contained Maya Angelous flowing style, the use of dialect, settings, and characterization.
Dialect is very influential to the tone of Angelous autobiography, as it was to the tone of Herman Melvilles Billy Budd. It was only through the dialect that the reader was able to understand Billys character. As in Billy Budd, Angelou uses dialect in her writings to enhance the tone of the book. “Thats right. You know, the children was readin me something th other day, Say folks dream about whatever was on their mind when they went to sleep.”(Pg. 158) Angelou quoted her “momma” paternal grandmother, and allows the reader to feel a sense as if momma was really saying something to them; she brings momma to life.
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As for the quote stated, Angelou uses what we consider to be African American slang, more formally known as “ebonics”, to personalize “momma”. In everyday English we use subject and verb agreement, however, Angelou does not by writing “the children was reading”, this type of dialect in Angelous autobiography personalizes many of the characters. The use of dialect also enhances the characterization of personalities of which are greatly noted in this autobiography.
Characterization, also another influential factor to Angelous writing, gives the reader a visualization of what the personalities are like. “when she was called upon to sing, momma seemed to pull out plugs from behind her jaws and the huge, almost rough sound would pour over the listeners and throb into the air.” (pg. 196) Angelou describes her grandmothers voice as an uproarious object that “poured over the listenersand throbbed into the air.” It makes the reader visualize a giant female who is singing in a tone to hurt the audiences ears. The mental picture of this woman is intimidating to the naive mind of a reader. As other characterizations suggest the same type of influence on the reader, one that enlightens their view on personalities. Angelou continually uses characterization to develop and expand upon the plot of the story, as well as the setting of characters.
A crucial part of this autobiography is the setting of the story, it allows for the reader to develop a sense of what the environment the characters reside in is like. Since Maya, one of the main characters, is moved around from place to place like a box of shoes, the settings of this book are different. From St. Louis Missouri to Ensenada, Mexico, and all of the other settings in between, Angelou pulls together an array of
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cultures of these areas to create a vivid setting. “Each year I watched fields across from the store turn caterpillar green , then gradually frosty white. I knew exactly how long it would be before the big wagons would pull into the front yard and load on the cotton pickers at day break to carry them to the remains of slaverys plantations.” (pg. 5) The use of color to depict the field as time passed from a “caterpillar green” to a “frosty white” adds to the settings culture. The image of “big wagons” rolling up clanking and clinking, awaiting the “cotton pickers” is very symbolic for the southern states. Being a crucial