Maya Angelou, “America’s most visible black female autobiographer”, was born on April 4, 1928. Being a poet, memoirist, actress and an imperative figure in the American Civil Rights Movement, she is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’.
‘Caged bird’ evokes her early 11 years of life. It represents a bird that is chained inside a cage and is succumbing to the bonds of slavery. Its freedom is curbed and it has no option but to sing. The bars of the cage signify the ‘bars of rage’, which restrict and deny freedom.
Its clipped wings symbolize an independence denied forever. It cannot escape from the unending night of cruelty. He can only voice his anger and frustration by singing the song of freedom. The caged bird is in the light of the poet’s African – American community suffering at the hands of the white people. Their voice is to cease totalitarianism.
The bird’s “fearful trill” instills a spirit of terror into the hearts of the listeners. He is the mouthpiece for all subjugated humanity enduring the yoke imperialism of the white man. He does not know what freedom is as he has never experienced it. He agonizingly yearns for freedom. His song, symbolic of despotism, is carried far and wide for humanity to acknowledge.
Angelou has presented a stark contrast between the free bird and caged bird. A free bird is born and bred in absolute freedom. It thinks of another breeze, climate, environment and the vastness of sky – which signifies unbounded freedom. On the contrary, the caged bird is merely obsessed with the concept of freedom. All it thinks about is depression and suppression. The free bird has everything available at its disposal. He can choose to do whatever he wants. He is privileged and never has to vex over anything.
The life of the caged bird is a living nightmare. The bird stands on the “grave of dreams” – which is emblematic of lost hopes, continual anguish and an everlasting night of oppression, to which there is no dawn. The dreams of Afro-Americans have died down forever. Grave connotes death of hopes, dreams and life.
When he opens his mouth to shriek, the bird sees his shadow, reflective of his soul, desperately pleading for liberty and screaming against repression. His scream has created a spooky and ghostly atmosphere that has infused fear all around.
Freedom, being a basic human right, is denied to the caged bird. Although he has never felt freedom, he is aware of having been denied something. Maya Angelou wrote ‘Caged Bird’ as a symbol of suppressed humanity in order to raise awareness. This is her spokesperson to voice the feeling of her community. She expresses the views of black people to herald tyranny of the white rulers.