I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Short Summary
In “I know why the caged bird sings,” Mya Angelou gives an autobiographical narration as she reflects on her life growing up as a black female in the tiny and racially segregated town of Stamps, Arkansas.
A Quick Plot Overview
After her parents’ divorce, while she was at the age of 3, Angelo and her brother named Bailey moved to stamps to live with uncle Willie and their paternal grandmother. They lived in the general store. This place functioned as a secular center for the black community within the town of Stamps, Arkansas. The memories Angelou has of this store are the euphoria surrounding Joe Louis’ success in the prizefight, weary farmworkers, as well as a horrendous night hunt by the Ku Klux Klan.
Angelou also recalls the African American church services, the disgusting interracial interactions, and sexual experimentation as a child. Her love of reading resulted in her interest in African American authors. These included Paul Laurence Dunbar, the poet from whom Angelou borrows a verse from one of his poems to title her narrative.
Singing voices are heard in Mya Angelou’s reminisce of her racially separated school in Arkansas. While graduating from their grade-school, Angelou in the company of her classmates repulses the racism from a contemptuous white politician by defiantly singing “Lift every voice and sing” by Weldon Johnson. This song later becomes Angelo’s celebration of African American resistance to the white establishment. It also became a path to her profession as a black poet.
Angelou narrates part of the story with a focus on her mother while in California and St. Louis. She goes on a wild visit to her father down in Mexico and even becomes a homeless runaway for some time. While still a young girl in St. Louis, Mya experiences a traumatic sexual abuse by Mr. Freeman, her mother’s boyfriend. After his prosecution and bizarre demise, Angelou undergoes a bout of muteness and trauma. As an adolescent, she struggles with her sexual identity, fearing that she could be a lesbian. Eventually, Angelou attempts an unsuccessful heterosexual encounter and subsequently conceives.
In the end, Angelou blossoms into a proud and confident young woman. During the second world war, she breaks the shackles of racism to be among the pioneer African American women to conduct streetcars in San Francisco. After overcoming the limbo of an unplanned pregnancy, Angelou courageously faces her future as a single mother as well as an African American woman.