Monday, June 2, 2014

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

One of the advantages of being a literature student is that you get exposed to a wide range of books, and from them, walk a mile in someone else's shoes. One of the books I read in JC (that would be highschool to most people) was I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and it was easily one of my favourite and one of the most moving books (I say "one of" because I had 16 books to study in 2 years, and many of them were good).

When I heard of Maya Angelou's passing, I realised that I never gave this book a review and decided to do a belated one now. RIP Maya Angelou, you have made an impact on me, my classmates and many others through this book.

What I remember very clearly about this book is that
This book is unique because it utilises techniques more commonly found in fiction than autobiography. 
 It's not profound, but I think it explains why I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings makes such an impact on us, and why it's commonly found in literature classes. It moves us, and it makes us think.

And this book certainly made me think. The thing is, I did not grow up marginalised, I grew up in a safe, comfortable environment where my race was the majority. To read about what Maya Angelou went through was shocking. It jolted me out of my comfort zone, and told me "you need to do something". If I had to compare this book to another book in secondary school (I believe this is middle school) that opened me eyes, then I would choose To Kill a Mockingbird, another excellent book that taught me the perspective of another.

If you live a comfortable life, it's easy to blind yourself to the sufferings of others. That's why books like these are needed - they wake you up.

Now, I only learnt recently that this book is quite frequently banned and challenged for disturbing content (I found out when I started reading Maya Angelou's wikipedia page, which lead to this book's page). Personally, I didn't find it disturbing, and I wasn't traumatised. I was shocked, yes, but I needed to be shocked. I needed to be woken up. Even if you think life should be a bed of roses, remember, roses have thorns.

Plus, for a kid that was sheltered (and I was sheltered), basically the only way that I could have found out about the darker side of life were through books. My childhood was nothing like Maya Angelou's. Is that a good thing? I would say so. But is it good for me to remain ignorant about the sufferings of others? I don't think so.

To deny a kid a chance to learn more about the parts of life that they (hopefully) won't go through is to deny that kid a chance to grow, and to be moved to make a difference.

To put it simply: this book moved me and made me think. It's for these reasons that I think it's a great book, and I'm thankful that I got to study it in school.


  1. It's been many years since I read this book, but I still have my copy on my shelves. I am not a big poetry reader, but I do enjoy Maya Angelou's poetry. She was such an amazing woman--inspiring in so many ways.

    I agree, we cannot be blind to the injustices of today. It's important to face them and do something about them. I don't agree with book banning at all, and so it's no surprise I would disagree with banning anything by Maya Angelou. Her books speak to many people and play an important part in our culture.

    1. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I haven't read much of her poetry. I really should go look for a copy!

  2. I started reading it but couldn't get into it. I think it was because the copy I got from the library was a small one, like a tiny packet edition and the fonts were really small and just seemed to overlap. When I read she died the book came instantly back to my mind. I'm planning to get a better copy to try again.

    1. I've had that experience before (not being able to read a book because of font). I actually enjoyed the story a lot more in a different version (larger font, easy on the eyes, etc) I'd be really interested to know what you think about it after you re-read it :D


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