Gender Roles In Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

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Maya Angelou chronicles the stories of the first seventeen years of her life in her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. As an African-American woman, she is trapped within the cage of “masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power” (Angelou 268). Her ethnic origin and personal experience strongly influence her conception of writing, so the central themes of her works are generally about racial discrimination and the emancipation of black women in the United States. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes multiple female characters who defy gender stereotypes and prove society's preconceived view of women to be wrong. Through the feminist literary theory perspective, Annie Henderson, Vivian Baxter,…show more content…
Henderson and Vivian act as Maya’s positive female role models in living, whereas Mrs. Bertha Flowers and Miss Kirwin are Maya’s mentors in academics who also disintegrate antiquated gender-specific misconceptions. Gender inequality is an issue throughout the world. In feudal ancient China, women were viewed as inferior to men and were supposed to be submissive and subject to men. An old Chinese saying goes, “ignorance is women's virtue", which reflects the supremacy of male in China's feudal society. There was a similar thought in twentieth century America, the society did not see the point of women’s higher education. Why a “baby-making machine” needs to be educated? Women were assumed by the man-run society around them to be unintelligent, poorly educated, and dumb. Nevertheless, Mrs. Flowers diametrically opposed to this gender stereotype. According to Angelou, she is a graceful, poised, refined, and intellectual lady who is “the aristocrat of Black Stamps” (91). The “lesson in living” that Mrs. Flowers teaches Maya…show more content…
She teaches Maya that common sense is as important as a formal education, and one’s education can come in different forms: educated in school and educated by life. Moreover, Mrs. Flowers also teaches Maya that “words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning”(Angelou 96). She reverses the role of words in Maya’s life. Bell Hooks states that “If the words of the lie could imprison her, now words start to play a role of liberating her from her cocoon of silence confirming” (28). Infected by Mrs. Flower’s wisdom, Maya breaks her self-imposed silence, realize the power of the human voice, and starts to love literature and knowledge. Many years later, when Maya moves to San Francisco, she encounters Miss Kirwin, who is a current events and civics teacher at George Washington High School. She is also a well-educated woman who against stereotypical gender characteristics. Her education is reflected in her actions of showing respect to everyone and treating Maya equally in a racism environment. Additionally, she introduces Maya to the value of the information, and motives her to begin reading newspapers and magazines instead of only reading poetry and fiction. By sharing the life lessons she learns from these two knowledgeable teachers, Mrs. Flower and Miss Kirwin, Angelou shows the society that under the physical appearances, women also have their personal

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