The reasons listed by the censors for banning I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings do not explain the widespread controversy around the novel. There is reason to believe that the question of the novel is in its poignant portrayal of race relations. This explains why the novel has been most controversial in the South, where racial tension is historically worst, and where the novel is partially set. Therefore, understanding the blatant and subtle effects of racism on the young Marguerite help explain the censorship controversy, and the person she became.
One of the earliest examples of race relations in the book symbolizes the strict dichotomy of opportunity for black and white children. On the second page, Marguerite explains how she wished that she would wake up in a white world, with blond hair, blue eyes, and she would shudder from the nightmare of being black. Thus, from the beginning of the book, race relations were one of the major themes.
Maya Angelou also shows the effect of oppression on the black people, and that impact on her as a child. One early example occurred when the po' white trash children confronted Mama in front of the store. They were represented as clownish, dirty, and rather silly. On the other hand, Mama simply stood like a rock and sang the Gospel. Her beauty of soul versus their disgusting antics creates a powerful scene about the nature of the oppressed and the oppressor. Marguerite, meanwhile, lies crouched behind the screen in agony at the inability of her class to command respect simply because of their color. Then, as the scene progresses, she understands that in spite of the disparity of power between the po'white trash and M...
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It is interesting to note the poetical nature of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her perspective of a young girl is flawless. One truly sees the events through the eyes of a young girl. For example, the molestation scenes are depicted simply and innocently, which bothers one's consciousness.
Another aspect of the book is the way in which the chapters are laid out. At the beginning of each chapter, Maya introduces a topic, discusses it, and then provides resolution. Each chapter is a short story by itself, but they also relate together. The chapters build on each other, and the end provides resolution to the common threads of the book. The end, however, also is a new beginning for Marguerite. It is the perfect ending to a profound and moving novel.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1969.
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