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In the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the author, Maya Angelou, describes how she grew up as an intelligent Afro-American girl in South America and later in California in 1940’s. She gives an account of the various characteristics of her society that made her to mature. Having worked with Martin Luther in combating racism before her book, she had to incorporate the theme of racism in her work. Thus racism and segregation is highly depicted as a theme in her book (Angelou 1).
Racism and Segregation
In this book, Maya comes across many instances of blatant racism. She is forced to face racism and segregation in her country at a very young age.
While living in Stamps, Arkansas, she experiences the region’s characteristic segregation to the extent that she believes that white people do not exist. At this tender age, she is made to believe that every good thing belongs to the whites. This is evidenced in many incidences. An example is that, as she fails to recite her poem in church, she notes that her dress is probably a handout from a white woman.
She associates blond hair with beauty and believes that she is trapped in a “black ugly dream” (Angelou 7) with an unattractive African-American body. She also believes that she will soon wake from her nightmare and become as beautiful as the whites. The segregation that is characteristic of Stamps is evidenced by the statement that Mrs. Henderson owns a store in the black segment of Stamps (Angelou 1 – 11).
As she grows older, Maya encounters racist incidences that are more open and personal. Some of these incidences include the demeaning address that is directed towards her by a white speaker during her eighth-grade graduation, she also faces racist problems while applying for a streetcar job but she overcomes the problems to get the job.
Her white boss is also depicted as a racist. He calls her Mary despite her disapproval. When she visits a white dentist, he declines to treat her. There is evidence that black people were prone to acts of violence perpetrated to them by their white counterparts. This is from the incidence in which Maya and Willie help a black man escaping a white lynch mob.
The importance that the black attach to the world championship boxing match of Joe Louis shows how the black people thirst for recognition and also proves inequality in the community. Maya is also portrayed as a racist in some ways. For instance, she feels guilty of loving the works of William Shakespeare due to the mere fact that he was white (Angelou 11 – 23). In summary, the book has a notable thematic bias on racism.
From the discussion above, it is clear that the community Maya is living in is faced with serious segregation and racism. Maya uses this community to describe how life was during her time. She creates events that depict how racism was deeply rooted in the American community in the 1940’s. As described, these events include her belief that black people are ugly, the derogatory address by a white speaker during her graduation, the refusal by a white dentist to treat her, etc (Angelou 10 – 24).
Through these experiences, she learns how racism and segregation has affected her family members’ characters and strives to overcome the pressure mounted on her by these social problems.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. U.S. Bantam Books, 1983. Print.