Quest for Self-Determination in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Lakota Woman

Powerful Essays
Quest for Self-Determination in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Lakota Woman

During their growing up years, children struggle to find their personal place in society. It is difficult for children to find their place when they are given numerous advantages, but when a child is oppressed by their parents or grandparents, males in their life, and the dominant culture, the road to achieving self-identity is fraught with enormous obstacles to overcome. Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Mary Crow Dog's Lakota Woman depict the two women's "triumph over formidable social obstacles and [their] struggle to achieve a sense of identity and self-acceptance" (Draper 1).

Both women grew up in segregated societies: Mary Crow Dog on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and Maya Angelou in the black community of Stamps, Arkansas. As is common with minority children, they spent most of their childhood living with their grandparents. Both women also experienced oppression by their parents and grandparents, who are the first contact with other people that children have. Even though Mary's mother and grandmother spoke the Lakota language, they refused to teach it to Mary. They told her that "speaking Indian would only hold you back, turn you the wrong way" (Crow Dog 22). They wanted Mary to have a "white man's education" (Crow Dog 22).

In contrast, Maya was denied a white man's education, not only by the dominant culture but also by her grandmother. Maya attended the Lafayette County Training School, which was the school for blacks. In addition, Maya's grandmother forbade her from reading books by white authors. This restriction is exemplified in the following passage:


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...e barriers blocking their chosen path and achieve the power to lead their lives as they see fit.

Works Cited

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam, 1993.

Crow Dog, Mary. Lakota Woman. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.

Draper, James P., ed., et al. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 77. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993.

Mahtowin, "Mary Crow Dog: Real Life Hero." New Directions for Women, Vol. 21, No.2, March-April, 1992, p. 28.

Narins, Brigham, and Deborah A. Stanley, eds., et al. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 93. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1996.

O'Neale, Sondra. "Reconstruction of the Composite Self: New Images of Black Women in Maya Angelou's Continuing Autobiography." Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984, pp. 25-37.
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