Through the imagery of birds in ‘I know why the caged birds sing’ by Maya Angelou the poet is trying to comment on the status of women in the society. Do you agree?
A literary piece is always open to different interpretations. Though Angelou’s poem originally indicated the distress of African Americans in comparison to their white counterparts, the imagery of birds may symbolize any oppressed section of the society.
In a patriarchal society women enjoy lesser freedom than men. In many societies, at least in Angelou’s time, women had no right to education and outdoor jobs. They lived within the house like the caged bird in the poem, having no freedom and no opportunity to realize their dreams. So, it won’t be wrong to interpret the caged bird as a reflection of the status of women in the society.
The usual association that the story of the caged bird brings to the mind is that of the status of the women in our patriarchal society where women are not allowed to do certain things and are always told that they should remain within the household. From childhood, a girl is often made to learn that she should keep herself at check, should be obedient,to learn to do household works, to see the world only from within the house and never dare to tread outside the house etc.. Aren’t their situation similar to that of caged bird? The poet through the analogy of the caged bird is making us realise the pain of being not able to do what one wishes to do. It is not that women are the only ones who have the plight of being caged. Any marginal community shares the same plight as that of women.
Maya Angelou through her depiction of the sad state of the caged bird is evoking the lives of people like them whether that of women in patriarchal society, whether that of blacks during the days of slavery, or that of untouchables in a caste-ridden society or that of colonized in a colonial set up.