Monday, January 19, 2015

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: discussion highlights

We met on Jan. 8th to discuss I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. It was a small group of 3 but we had a nice evening together talking about the book and eating yummy food. We ate sweet and salted chocolate cake, Cherry pie and egg nog loaf. It was all so good :)

   In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou describes her coming of age as a insecure black girl dealing with a lot of racism. Maya’s parents divorce when she is only three years old and ship Maya and her older brother, Bailey, to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. Their Grandmother whom they call Momma, runs the only store in the black section of Stamps and becomes the central moral figure in Maya’s childhood.

   When Maya is eight, her father, of whom she has no memory, arrives in Stamps unexpectedly and takes her and Bailey to live with their mother, in St. Louis, Missouri. Beautiful and alluring, she lives a wild life working in gambling parlors. One morning her live-in boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, sexually molests Maya, and he later rapes her. They go to court and afterward Mr. Freeman is violently murdered, probably by some of the underground criminal associates of Maya’s family.

   To Maya’s relief, but Bailey’s regret, Maya and Bailey return to Stamps to live with Momma. Momma manages to break through Maya’s silence by introducing her to Mrs. Flowers, a kind, educated woman who tells Maya to read works of literature out loud, giving her books of poetry that help her to regain her voice.

   At age ten, Maya takes a job for a white woman who calls Maya “Mary” for her own convenience. Maya becomes enraged and retaliates by breaking the woman’s fine china. At Maya’s eighth grade graduation, a white speaker devastates the proud community by explaining that black students are expected to become only athletes or servants. When Maya gets a rotten tooth, Momma takes her to the only dentist in Stamps, a white man who insults her, saying he’d rather place his hand in a dog’s mouth than in hers. The last straw comes when Bailey encounters a dead, rotting black man and witnesses a white man’s satisfaction at seeing the body. Momma begins to fear for the children’s well-being and saves money to bring them to their mother.

   When Maya is thirteen, they move to live with their mother in Los Angeles and then in Oakland, California. When she marries Daddy Clidell, a positive father figure, they move with him to San Francisco, the first city where Maya feels at home. She spends one summer with her father, Big Bailey, in Los Angeles and has to put up with his cruel girlfriend, Dolores. After Dolores cuts her in a fight, Maya runs away and lives for a month with a group of homeless teenagers in a junkyard. She returns to San Francisco strong and self-assured. She defies racist hiring policies and becomes the first black streetcar conductor at age fifteen. At sixteen, she hides her pregnancy from her mother and stepfather for eight months and graduates from high school. The account ends as Maya begins to feel confident as a mother to her newborn son.

   We all enjoyed readying this book but wouldn't recommend this book to just anyone. It is an autobiography but it does have some fiction. We thought Maya did this to add details that might not have happened to fill in the blanks and to lighten the tone up as there is a lot of seriousness and sadness going on. All in all we enjoyed reading this book.

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