Why the Caged Bird Sings: Main Stylistic Ideas

Categories: Maya Angelou Plot

Why a Caged Bird Sings Sweet Songs

Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird” dramatizes the comparison between a bird that is free to make its flight and a bird that is denied. The caged bird, in response, sings from behind the bars of its cage to express its longing for liberation. Through the use of juxtaposition, the speaker, presumably Angelou herself, creates an extended metaphor that could be representative of the disenfranchisement of the African-American community and the hardships Angelou has encountered throughout her life.

A free bird leaps/ on the back of the wind/ and floats downstream/ till the current ends/ and dips his wing/ in the orange sun rays/ and dares to claim the sky. (1-7) The poem begins with a description of the actions a free bird takes without hesitation or resistance. The speaker’s diction expresses a sense of opportunity and potential with words like ‘leaps’, ‘dares’, and ‘claim’. This makes the tone of the second stanza, which describes the captivity of the caged bird, seem all the more stifling.

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Along with the poems theme of beauty though suffering, it can also symbolize the use of art as a form of expression for the socially downtrodden in society. Angelou, often referred to as a renaissance woman, was a singer, dancer, and actor as well as a writer in her lifetime. “Caged Bird” is a lyrical poem that is enjambed to preserve the easy flow of its rhythm and music-like qualities much like the song the caged bird sings.

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The poem does not follow a specific rhyme scheme, however, when it does rhyme it is to create a feeling of intensity. But a bird that stalks/down his narrow cage/ can seldom see through/his bars of rage (8-11). This heightens the element of danger and injustice in containing that which should not be contained.

“Caged Bird” presents similar themes as in Maya Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings the powerlessness of the caged bird mirrors Angelou’s feelings toward her early years, It was awful to be Negro and have no control over my life (176). Despite her tribulations Angelou still managed to find who she was. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Winfrey states that she had “never seen anybody who exudes more confidence” to which Angelou replies that this is because she has had only herself to rely on and that she feels that most people are afraid to say “Yes. I deserve it.” (Angelou). This is a sentiment shared in her poem, that even though the caged bird is denied it’s freedom it still knows that it deserves to roam without interference and take what is theirs by nature.

Personification, when used to describe the free bird and caged bird, gives further strength the metaphor. The way the caged bird is grounded in captivity evokes sympathy from the reader, no bird should be physically tied or be subject to the bodily harm of having its wings clipped. Such grievance seems like an affront to nature, eliminating an element that God intended to be at the forefront of his creation’s purpose. When this component of oppression is applied to people it seems all the more heinous. The speaker uses repetition with the phrases, so he opens his throat to sing (14) and for the caged bird /sings of freedom (22) which seem to say that although the caged bird is bound he will never stop striving to escape his prison which appears reminiscent of the African-American spirit and the heart of the civil rights movement. As a woman of color and prominent civil rights activist Angelou sought to bring about social justice and change in America though her art and her words.

Updated: Feb 17, 2024
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Why the Caged Bird Sings: Main Stylistic Ideas. (2024, Feb 17). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/why-the-caged-bird-sings-main-stylistic-ideas-essay

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