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The Cages Of Maya Angelou Essay, Research Paper

The Cages Of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou wrote an amazing and entertaining autobiography titled I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, about her hard life growing up as a black girl from the South. Among the hardships are metaphores known as “cages”. “Cages” are things that keep people from succeeding in life and being everything they want to be. Some of Maya Angelou’s cages include being black in the 1940’s, and her overbearing grandmother. For myself a major “cage” is being young.

A major “cage” from Maya Angelou’s youth was that she was black in a prejudice southern town. Maya has recounted in her book the times when she was discriminated against. When she was working for a white woman named Mrs. Viola Cullinan, she started calling Margaret, Mary. “That’s [Margaret] too long. She’s Mary from now on.”(pp.91) One of the most important aspects of a person is their name. It is a great insult for someone to change your name, without your consent, just because someone wanted too. If Maya was white Mrs. Cullinan would not have changed her name. She did it only because of her racist friends, and attitudes. Even some of the white s, who supposedly supported her, had hidden their racist feelings in seemingly nice remarks. Maya conveys the words of Mr. Edward Donleavy, one of the people in the masquerade, “The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gauguins, and our boys (the girls weren’t included) would try to be Jesse Owens and Joe Louises.”(pp.151) Maya was forced to listen to Mr. Donleavy’s stereotypes of how white children could be thinkers, and black children can only be athletes. What was supposed to be an encouraging speech, which Mr. Donleavy probably thought was sincere, turned out to be just another racist and stereotypical message. Perhaps it was not so much Mr. Donleavy’s fault, because he was trying to be nice, but more of his background. Racism was the most prominent of Maya’s “cages” and it is probably due to the society and ignorant ideals.

The second major cage for Maya Angelou was that she has a very strict, religious, and overbearing grandmother. A child’s guardian be caring and strict but that guardian should not be overbearing. After coming back from Mrs. Flowers’ house bringing Bailey some cookies, Maya is disciplined by momma; “I repeated, ‘I said, Bailey by the way, Mrs. Flowers sent you-’ [Momma responds] ‘That’s what I thought you said. Go on and take off your dress. I’m going to get a switch.”(pp.85) Maya’s grandmother punishing Maya just for using a common everyday phrase seems to be a little harsh. Maya’s grandmother was trying to raise her well, but the way she did it could have the opposite effect. Just when she was making progress, getting out of her depression and taking a step forward with Mrs. Flowers, the punishment may have actually made Maya take a step back. Another thing that Momma does, to try to help Maya is when Maya relates this, “If they [feet] weren’t clean enough for her, she took the switch and woke up the offender with a few aptly place burning reminders.”(pp.21) A switching for dirty feet seems to be a little extreme. Again she was trying to do good but in turn may be doing the opposite by being too severe in punishing for a small offense. It is important to be clean, and Maya knew that, but a switching because of not being spotless is a little harsh. The punishment must fit the offense and this punishing could do more harm than good. Though, it has to be considered that because of the time period it may not be momma’s fault. Maya’s grandmother being too strict, even though she meant good, was a factor that keeps Maya from achieving what she knows she’s capable of.

Maya Angelou is not the only person who has cages, everyone has them. My “cage” is something no one can get away from at some point in their life; my young age. Age is a barrier that stops me from doing many things that s can do. Many times I suggest things to my parents, but sometimes they do not respect my opinions. I feel that if I were an my suggestions and opinions would be handled with more respect and have more validity. Many people do not listen to ideas of a young person, thinking that he or she does not understand, or have the maturity to think things through. Many people equate youth with immaturity, which is sometimes, but not always true. This is somewhat similar, but not as severe, as the experience that Maya had with Mr. Donleavy, being caught in a stereotype. Another time that I was held back because of my age is with a certain radio talk show that does not let children call. I had tried to call in but I still could not get on the air with all of my debating with him. This talk show host is segregating children because of a stereotype of children being immature. He is just another that thinks young people are all the same. Age is a problem with its stereotypes and could be a “cage” either being too old or too young.


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