I know why the caged bird sings
Marguerite (Maya) is a black southers girl and lives with her grandmother and her brother (Bailey) in Stamps. Her grandmother owns a store. Maya and Bailey go to school, but they also have to do some chores in and around the store. When Maya is seven years old, suddenly her father (who’s name is also Bailey) shows up and they go with him to St. Louis to see their mother. They live with their mother for a while. She lives with a man, mr. Freeman, who abuses Maya. Fist he only touches her, but once he actually rapes her. She’s very sick for a few days and it hurts very bad. When her mother finds out what happened, Maya and Bailey are being send back to Stamps to live with their grandmother again.
From the moment Mr. Freeman rapes her, Maya only talks when it’s absolutely necessary. She just hangs around the store and reads and learns, but she’s not really living. The first person who helps her is Mrs. Flowers. She learns Maya that talking is important for communicating, and that reading and learning alone just wasn’t enough. At a picnic Maya meets Louise who becomes her fist real friend. By talking to her and just having fun, Maya feels better and better. ‘....and after being a woman for three years I was about to become a girl.’ When Maya has a tooth-ache, her grandmother takes her to a white dentist (the only one near). She had helped him out during the depression, and she askes him to return that favour. He refused with a rude ‘I aint gonna mess around in no niggah’s mouth’. Because of that they had to travel a long way to go to the nearest black dentist.
One day their grandmother tells Maya and Bailey that she is going to take them to California, to their parents. After preparing the journey carefully they leave. They live in Los Angelos for about six months, then the appartment in San Francisco is ready for them. Their grandmother returns to Stamps, and Maya and Bailey finely live with their mother (their parents are divorced). One summer, Maya’s father invites her to spend the holidays with him. It is the fist time that Maya is going on a vacation. Her father has a girlfriend, Dolores. She is much younger than he is, and Maya is very surprised to see her. Dolores is also surprised to see Maya, and from the first moment they see each other, they don’t like what they see. During her stay with her father, Maya and Dolores dislike each other more and more. It comes to an outburst when Maya and ‘big’ Bailey come home from a trip to Mexico. First Bailey and Dolores have an argument. Dolores accuses Bailey of letting his children come between them. He leaves the house. Maya, having heard their conversation (the house has got very thin walls), wants to console Dolores. She walks into the living room and tells her that she never meant to come between her and her Dad. It doesn’t help much, and they also have an argument. When Dolores calls Maya’s mother a whore, Maya slaps her in her face and they start fighting. Maya frees herself from the grip of Dolores and goes outside. Dolores comes out with a hammer, trying to hit Maya. Maya runs to the car and locks herself in. She finds herself bleeding. She has been cut. Her father, who was visiting neighbours, comes to her rescue and brings Dolores back to the house. He takes Maya to a woman who puts a bandage on the wound. After this he drops her off at friends. The next day, when she finds herself alone in that strange house, she decides to run away.
She comes across a junkyard with carcasses of old cars. She decides to spend the night in one of them. When she wakes up the next morning there are a bunch of children watching her. They are also homeless, and they live at the junkyard. She stays with them for a month. They earn money by hunting down unbroken bottles and selling them, mowing the lawns and other small jobs. After that month she calls her mother and askes her to pick her up. She comes home again and goes to school. Bailey has problems with their mother, and eventually he leaves home. Then Maya decides to take a job. She wants to be a conductor at a streetcar. She goes to the office of the Market Street Railway Company. The receptionist is surprised to see her (because she’s black), and she tries very hard to get rid of her. That goes on for three weeks, and every day Maya comes in to the office and asks for a job interview. Then she gets the job. She reads the book ‘The Well of Loneliness’. It’s about lesbianism and sex. Reading this book and developping something on her vagina, Maya becomes terrified that she might be turning into a lesbian. Her mother tells her her body is perfectly normal, but Maya still isn’t convinced. Two weeks later, a classmate of her stays for the night. When she undresses, Maya sees her breasts. She is stunned. The idea that she was moved by looking at a womans breast frightens her, and she decides that to make sure she is normal, she needs a boyfriend. She makes a plan, and one day when she passes a hansom and populair boy, she says ‘Hey. Would you like to have a sexual intercourse with me?’
The boy is stunned. He takes her with him to his room and they ‘make love’ (there wasn’t exactly much passion involved). Three weeks later Maya finds herself pregnant. She doesn’t tell anybody but Bailey until she gets her school diploma. She was quite sure that her mother would have made her quit school if she would have told her immediatly. When she does tell, she has only three more weeks to go. It’s a boy. Maya is very frightened to touch him. She’s afraid she might hurt him. One night Maya’s mother comes into her bedroom with her son. She insists that he will sleep with her. Maya is terrified, but after a while she falls asleep. A little later her mother wakes her up. Her son lies next to her, and she’s protecting him with her arm. Maya is reassured.
The theme is growing up in hard conditions. The story tells about how Maya struggles with her youth. Her education is very confusing. Being sent from her mother to her grandmother, to her father to her mother and so on, she is confronted with all kinds of different ways of education. She had difficulties in coping with these sometimes confusing differences. For example: when she lived with her mother for a while, and then came back to her grandmother, she said ‘by the way’. In her world that meant nothing but ‘while we’re on the subject’, but for her grandmother it is a horrible curse, because Jezus is the only way, and his name may not be used in vain. The story is a journey of selfdiscovery ending up in selfacceptance.
Maya has a great deal of perseverance. When she has her mind on something, she is determined to accomplish that goal. A good example is that she drives her fathers car for many miles while he lies totaly drunk on the back seat while she absolutely couldn’t drive. And when she wanted to be a conducter on a streetbus, she didn’t stop trying till she got the job. She is also very eager to learn. She studies very hard at school, and she wants to understand every situation before she can really move on. She is very aware of the things she is doing, and she always has her future in mind. For example, when she is pregnant in the end, she doesn’t tell her mother because she would make her quit school. That would make her chances for a good future smaller. She is a brave girl, ready to accept the consequenses of her actions.
I think the title refers to the knowledge that Maya has at the end of the book. Because she knows then why ‘the caged bird’, the oppressed, wants to ‘sing’ (make the best out of his or her situation and knowing that he is worth trying).
I think it’s a good book. Situations that are hard to believe become logical because it is writen down so clearly. The way of writing also makes it possible to totally understand Maya and her way of thinking.
Dit is een niet-verbeterde versie. Het is dus niet aan te raden het letterlijk te kopieëren.
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