I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
"This testimony from a black sister marks the beginning of a new era in the minds and hearts and lives of all black men and women....I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity. I have no words for this achievement, but I know that not since the days of my childhood, when the people in books were more real than the people I saw every day, have I found myself so moved....Her portrait is a biblical study of life in the midst of death."
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1. The memoir opens with a provocative refrain: "What you looking at me for? I didn't come to stay ... "
What do you think this passage says about Ritie's sense of herself? How does she feel about her place in the world? How does she keep her identity intact?
2. Upon seeing her mother for the first time after years of separation, Ritie describes her as "a hurricane in its perfect power." What do you think about Ritie's relationship with her mother? How does it compare to her relationship with her grandmother, "Momma"?
3. The author writes, "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." What do you make of the author's portrayal of race? How do Ritie and her family cope with the racial tension that permeates their lives?
4. Throughout the book, Ritie struggles with feelings that she is "bad" and "sinful," as her thoughts echo the admonitions of her strict religious upbringing. What does she learn at the end of the memoir about right and wrong?
5. What is the significance of the title as it relates to Ritie's self-imposed muteness?
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"Simultaneously touching and comic."
The New York Times
"More than a tour de force of language or the story of childhood suffering: it quietly and gracefully portrays and pays tribute to the courage, dignity and endurance of the small, rural community in which she spent most of her early years in the 1930's....Some of the incidents she depicts are wonderfully funny. But a summary of the incidents cannot do this book justice; one has to read it to appreciate its sensitivity and life."