The Different Perspectives on the Caged Bird’s Thoughts in the Poems Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
In each two out of the three poems we read in class there were two slightly varying
perspectives on the caged bird’s thoughts. Paul Laurence Dunbar describes the bird violently. He says, “And a pain sill throbs in the old, old scars and they pulse again with a keener sting- I know why he beats his wing”. Dunbar makes certain word choices in his poem to stress the pain that the caged bird feels. Maya Angelou on the other hands writes the caged bird as a wishful and hopeful bird. She says “his tune is heard on the hill for the caged bird sings of freedom”. The differing perspective in these two poems sets the mood for different themes to occur in Angelou’s book. Angelou includes ideas from both poems to describe how a African American girl in the 30s-50s grows up in a “cage”. As a girl in this novel she comes face-to-face with problems such as rape, low self-esteem and identity, displacement, and racism.
Angelou grows up without her mother or her father so she and her brother, Bailey, are sent to live with their grandmother, Annie. Angelou’s brother Bailey was a beautiful young man with “velvet-black skin” and when compared to her brother, her classmates would call her “shit color”. So when her father visits she can do nothing but insist that she is anything but this mans child. Angelou writes, “Maybe he wasn’t my real father… I was an orphan that they picked up”. This disconnect that Maya feels with her father gives her the impression that this man is nothing more than a stranger. So when he took Maya and Bailey to St. Louis, Maya felt displaced. On top of having to experience the divorce of her father and mother all over again, Maya feels frazzled and anxious. Her inability to connect with anyone in St. Louis limits her to what she can become and whom she will talk to. Her low self-esteem and lack of identity also add to the need to be perfect just like family. The lack of connecting to her family sends her on a search to find something that she can latch on to, someone that will no longer make her feel “caged”.
The “someone” that Maya chooses to latch onto (for a short period of time) is Mr.
Freeman. He provides her with the love and tenderness that she had been searching for. Angelou writes, “the way he was holding me I knew he’d never let me go or let anything bad ever happen to me” (73). Maya’s lack of knowledge about sex leaves her to believe that this man is her real father was Later she had realized what had happened and the one thing that she thought was great, was actually a terrible crime and diminishes her trust of adults. Her experience with rape confines her as a child who cannot understand how an adult could mislead a young child. Mr. Freeman’s threat leaves Maya with no other choice but to lie and hide her experience from her family. By not sharing the story she loses pieces of her childhood and happiness. Through this struggle Maya’s guilt ends up leaving her distressed. I believe that Maya’s guilt for what happened with Mr. Freeman is what holds her back from society the most because she has to live with the thought that she has done something wrong. Maya’s struggle with rape is one of the most intense conflicts in the book.
Throughout the book so far Maya struggles with many events and feelings that “cage” her from the society she lives in. She is unable to speak of her painful experience and unable to connect with any of her family members. Nearly 10 years after the writing of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” Maya Angelou wrote the poem, “Still I Rise”. This poem shows that Maya Angelou doesn’t let bad experiences and thoughts get ahold of her entire life, instead she takes control uses this poem to show growth. To me this poem is not only used to describe how she has grown but is also used to show young children and teens that no matter what color or size still they will always rise.