I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Favorite Line: “The world had taken a deep breath and was having doubts about continuing to revolve.”
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of the most influential pieces of American Literature from the 20th Century. Angelou’s account of her childhood is unlike any other book written in its time, and it opened doors for important dialogue and understanding between cultures and races, and it should be on everyone’s reading list.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Before I continue, I have to admit that I find memoirs very difficult to read. I don’t know why, but I rarely enjoy them. So there were times when I had a hard time with this book, mainly because of the style that is required of a memoir. I also listened to the audiobook version that Maya Angelou narrated herself, and I think that made it even harder for me to get through it. Angelou has a very unique voice, but if you have heard her speak you know she is rather monotonous and her voice is very soothing–this made it very hard to concentrate at times and I had to go back and listen to sections over again because I found myself spacing off.
This book is not what you would call a “fun read.” There are very disturbing sections, and parts of such extreme hatred and racism, it makes you feel sick to think that this level of cruelty existed then and continues to exist today. With that being said, Angelou does bring her humor to the story and she tells some pretty incredible stories, some that will make you laugh out loud, and some will just leave you shocked she got away with what she was attempting.
“There is nothing a person can’t do, and there should be nothing a human being didn’t care about. It was the most positive encouragement I could have hoped for.”
This being a true story, it’s hard to criticize the characters as they are real people, and Angelou makes them come alive for the reader. I found myself having mixed feelings about many of the characters, but after further examination I realized how accurate this was to life. We form many different opinions about people we know, and many of our closest acquaintances are met with mixed feelings from us at one point or another. We see all the characters from her point of view, but we also see them with the eyes of an outsider and the eyes of a grownup, as most of the book is described as through the eyes of a child.
Speaking of the point of view, I was so amazed at how well Angelou described the story not as how she remembered it, but as she lived it at the time. This is an amazing skill of Angelou’s and it really brings power to her story.
As I said earlier, the book was hard for me at times, but I am glad I read it. The final page of this book was one of the most beautiful human experiences I have ever listened to (or read). I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a classic that should be read by all, and it helped shape literature and the civil rights movement.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still,
and his tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”