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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Essay

The American Dream is true equality and freedom of the citizens of The United States. In Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Marguerite struggles with the thought of feeling unwanted as a child and the discrimination against blacks. As Marguerite grows up, she experiences first-hand the cruelty of racism. Her struggles reflect on all the hardships the citizens of America went through when they were fighting for equality as well. It first started in 1607 when English settlers travelled to America for religious freedom. The freedom they sought out for eventually grew to be something more important than just religious freedom. Marguerite defies authority and segregation and eventually gains the equality she deserves. Even though the era of slavery has ended, segregation between blacks and whites were still present.

The town that Marguerite lives in is separated from where the white population is and she barely knows what they are like and she wonders if they are even human. Early on in the story, Marguerite first experiences the cruelty of the local “powhitetrash” when her family is warned of the white men searching her town for a scapegoat. This causes her Uncle Willie to hide in a potato bin even though he is innocent. In chapter blank, Marguerite watches three white girls mock Momma and she feels anger towards their cruelty and unfairness.

As Momma finds her crying in anger, this is the first time she felt the need to defy the white people and fight against them. This encounter foreshadows Marguerite’s future acts of defiance against white people, as the English settlers defied their kind and moves to America. Marguerite’s first true act of defiance was when she was working for a white woman named Viola Cullinan. Mrs. Viola Cullinan is rude and her friends mistreat Marguerite. In order for Marguerite to stop working for her, she broke her prized china. This was a sign of Marguerite finally taking a stand against being mistreated. Her resistance gains Marguerite back her pride and she is getting closer to the freedom that she yearns for.

There are times in the story where Marguerite feels an extreme sense of pride for her and her people. At Marguerite’s graduation, a white man named Edward Donleavy degrades the black population by stating that they can only excel in sports. He causes the eighth grade class to feel ashamed of themselves because they feel unintelligent. Marguerite starts to regret the fact that Columbus discovered the new world and she wishes that he hadn’t.
She feels so embarrassed, but Henry Reed, the valedictorian of her class brings their spirit back up.

He has the crowd sing the Negro National Anthem and as his speech ends, everyone feels great pride swell inside of them. Marguerite feels proud of her heritage and education and ignores what harsh words of Mr. Donleavy. Another time when Marguerite feels proud of the black population is when she envisions Ms. Henderson standing up to Dr. Lincoln. She pictures Ms. Henderson turning into a superhero and scaring Dr. Lincoln. She states that she feels proud to be her granddaughter. The American Dream cannot be fulfilled unless the people have an extreme sense of pride of who they are and their country. Marguerite’s feelings were the start of the journey towards equality between all races.

Marguerite first experiences a sense of equality when she attends a school in San Francisco. All the students are rude to her and act as if she is inferior to all of them. On the other hand, Marguerite meets a teacher names Mrs. Kirwin who doesn’t discriminate. She treats every single one of her students the same, no matter what their race is. She only remembers Mrs. Kirwin because she didn’t treat her differently. Marguerite experiences one final act of equality when she runs away from her father.

She discovers a mix of young teens consisting of several races working together in equality. They give her certain rules that allow her to appreciate diversity and how everyone is the same. For example, everyone must work and put in an equal amount of effort to survive. Like the American Dream, everyone living in the junkyard is equal and treated fairly. There was no oppression or segregation when Marguerite lived in the junkyard. As it says in The Declaration of Independence, every American citizen is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

In chapter 19, the Store is filled people listening to the boxing match with Joe Louis, a hero from the black population. When he wins, Marguerite feels that he proved that black people are powerful people. The black population develops a sense of hope, feeling that things will start to change because Joe Louis made a difference and because he is a black man.

They feel as if they finally took a stand to all the unjust lynching and discrimination against blacks. Near the end of the story, Marguerite becomes the first black person to have a job as a streetcar conductor. At first, there was a policy forbidding any black person to have this job, but Marguerite fights and against all odds, she is successful. This proves that regardless of social standing, one can achieve what they desire if he or she really wants it. Just as us Americans fought for freedom, Marguerite fought for equality.


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