Famous poet Robert Frost once said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” In other words, poetry can describe an emotion that the speaker is feeling. This quote directly relates to the 20th-century poet, Maya Angelou, and her work. Maya Angelou has gone through many major events throughout her life such as the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. The most ]important event that she lived through is where African Americans faced racial segregation and were treated unequally because of the color of their skin. The poem, Caged Bird, written by her is also about the racism African Americans faced during that time period. The racism and discrimination Angelou experienced during the time of segregation had a great impact on her poetry.
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Marguerite Annie Johnson or Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. Angelou has had a rough childhood such as her parents had a divorce when she was very young and she and her older brother, Bailey, had no choice and were sent to their Grandmother’s house. Once she returned home to her mother at the age of seven, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Then, as punishment towards this experience, one of Angelou’s uncles had killed him. Since she was so mortified by this experience, she stopped talking and spent years noticed as a virtual mute. A quote that explains this experience is, “A second image from Angelou’s childhood involves the seven year old’s rape by her mother’s boyfriend. When no legal punishment followed, the rapist was murdered, possibly by the victim’s uncles. Guilt following this incident drove Angelou inward, and she began reading the great works of literature.” (Taylor).
At the age of sixteen, she has gotten married and had a son named Guy. In order to earn a living for the family, she had many jobs such as being a waitress, singer, and a dancer. She has received many nominations for being a given actress such as a Tony Award and Emmy Award nomination along with others. She enjoyed dancing, but her knees caused her great deal of pain so she devoted time to writing. Some of Angelou’s best-known poetry and books are ‘Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die’ (1971), ‘On the Pulse of Morning’, ‘All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes’ (1986), ‘Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now’ (1994) and ‘A Song Flung Up to Heaven’ (2002). She was mostly inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to pursue her passion for writing. Angelou then died on May 28, 2014, in Winston- Salem, North Carolina but, her death had a positive impact on society and she is now a role model for the world today.
Angelou lived during the 20th century during a time of racial segregation in America towards African Americans. In America, African Americans represented a various set of backgrounds and political standpoints. They have also taken up approximately 25% of the population, making them the most powerful minority in the country. By the early 20th century, blacks faced a ton of segregation in America. The civil rights movement began in 1954 in the south of the United States and ended around 1968.
They fought for racial equality and freedom for not just African Americans but for all people. The movement also consists of African American leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and James Baldwin. Rosa Parks was one of the biggest inspirations of the civil rights movement when she refused to give her seat away to a white man on a public bus which led to her arrest. This also led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was also protest against segregation. Brown v. Board of Education allowed blacks to integrate into all white schools. This movement had gained success such as achieving the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965), which pleaded to make certain that blacks could get their right to vote. As stated here, “The movement enjoyed brief victories with the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965), which promised federal assistance to ensure that blacks could exercise their right to vote nearly 100 years after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment” (Newman). Their battle through slavery and the civil rights movement gained them a passage of federal laws supervising equal rights for all Americans. This brief event had a major impact on Angelou’s writing because she was struggling with being a segregated African American during this time.
The poem, Caged Bird by Maya Angelou is contrasting the conditions and emotions of being a free bird and a caged bird. Throughout the poem, Angelou addressed her feelings to American citizens of being a segregated and discriminated African American woman during the 20th century. This African American speaks of the fear of being a caged bird but also mentions the hope the bird still has of freedom by opening his throat to sing. This leads to the overall tone of the poem which is sympathetic but, hopeful. Angelou’s message of this work is during the difficult times, it is important to remain optimistic.
In Caged Bird, Maya Angelou uses auditory imagery and repetition to show how when life gets tough, it is important to remain hopeful. Auditory imagery is being shown when Angelou states, “The caged bird sings”(15). The caged bird is singing to be heard and is still remaining optimistic even though it is being treated unfairly. This supports the extensional message of the poem because instead of the bird accepting oppression and remaining hopeless while it is being denied rights, it sings for hope and freedom. Repetition is being shown when she repeats, “so he opens his throat to sing”(30). It is seen in this element that even though the bird is caged, it is still proud and sings for independence which is also referencing African American preaching for free rights during a time of segregation. This quote supports the subject matter because Angelou is emphasizing how the caged bird still remains happy even tho it is caged with no rights.
The segregation and discrimination Angelou encountered during a period of racism had influenced her poetry. Some events that have influenced her poetry was at a young age, her parents had divorced and had no choice but to live with her grandmother. Eventually, she was raped at the age of seven by her mother’s boyfriend and a couple days later the culprit was killed by her uncle which caused her to be noticed as a virtual mute. She also faced segregation and racism due to being an African American. As Angelou grew older many good changes have occurred in the world today such as there is less discrimination towards African Americans and other racial groups today. America has even gotten there first African American president and his name is Barack Obama. In conclusion, Maya Angelou learned throughout her struggle of racial segregation that you have to fight for freedom in order to make an impact on the world.
Maya Angelou: 20th-Century Poet. (2019, Oct 30).
Retrieved May 19, 2022 , from
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