What is the meaning of the line “his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream” in the poem “I know why the caged bird sings” by Maya Angelou?
The caged bird’s ‘shadow’ gives a sense as if it is powerless or even dead (figuratively). The scream or cry is coming from its shadow instead of the bird itself. This is probably to mean that no one pays any heed to the desperate cry of the bird confined in the cage. Who would care to hear the call of a shadow?
‘Nightmare scream’ is the shout of the caged bird who is having a frightening dream (nightmare) of never getting his freedom from his confinement. He has probably given up on his dreams of liberty. That is why the poet says that the bird ‘stands on the grave of dreams (His dreams are now dead!) / his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream‘.
This is to create a contrast of the caged bird’s life to that of the free bird who ‘names the sky his own’.