Caged Bird

Caged Bird

By: Maya Angelou

Historical basis: 

Segregation in St. Louis Missouri has been unfortunately common throughout time. This painting by Alex Williams represents segregation in Missouri. The white lines that run across the canvas represents the borders that represent the ‘creators of Segregation’ and there are many lines which once again brings us back to the level at which racial segregation is still of existence. Although it being extremely unfortunate, this does connote the type of childhood Angelou lived. 

Background of the poetSummary of the Poem 
Born: 4th April, 1928  Died: 28th May, 2014    Maya Angelou, born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced at the age of three and lived with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas with her brother.    When she was eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. When she revealed what happened, her uncles kicked the culprit to death. Frightened by the power of her own tongue, Angelou chose not to speak for the next five years. From this quiet beginning emerged a young woman who sang, danced, and recorded poetry.   When living with her Grandmother, there were small occurrences of the white community since the level of segregation between the two races was extremely high. The allegory Caged Bird, written in 1968 by Maya Angelou. Depicting the life of a hopeful yet oppressed Caged Bird, a symbolic representation of the African-American society at the time. Whilst comparing the life of a Free Bird, a symbolic representation of the White community. 


Language Analysis

Stanza 1:

The stanza begins with the description of a free bird, the first two lines starts off with a powerful use of personification as well as the verb ‘leaps’. The use of the verb, ‘leaps’ seems very powerful for a small bird, this represents not just the physical power of the bird but also the power within. The stanza continues ‘and floats downstream till the current ends’, this talks about the idea of the lack of physical boundaries since a current doesn’t stop (literally). ‘and dips his wings in the orange sun rays’ simply adds a finishing touch to the stanza by connoting the atmosphere evidently instilled in the stanzas that talks about the life of a free bird. The stanza concludes with the phrase ‘dares to claim the sky’ 

Stanza 2:

The stanza begins with a conjunction which doesn’t just imply a comparison between the first stanza (free bird) and this one (caged bird) but it also implies a transition of tone and mood, as well feelings of fear and uncertainty. The word ‘Seldom’ means rarely or not often and this means that the bird itself doesn’t realize the pain he’s going through. The use of anaphora (his) helps to create this effect of listing the things that lead to the reader concluding that the caged bird is most definitely oppressed. The metaphor, ‘bars of rage’ represents the cage or the prison and its linked back to the currently feelings or reaction towards oppression which is, obviously anger/rage. Finally, the poet tops it off by adding verbs that emphasizes the mood of this stanza.

Stanza 3:

The stanza continues on with the description of the caged bird which sort of throws off the algorithm or pattern in the poem. This sort off inconsistency implies that the form or structure is not the focus, in fact, the message is. The use of a paradox ‘of things unknown but longed for still’ implies how oppression defined the birds life, the feeling of freedom is unknown for the bird but is still craved, this implied the degree to which the African-American community was oppressed. The stanza concludes with the lines ‘for the caged bird sings of freedom’ which establishes a mutual ground between the reader and the caged bird, addressing feelings of oppression throughout life.

Stanza 4:

The poem the carries on to compare the two lives of the caged and free bird. This stanzas significance is all thanks to the use of imagery and figurative language adds to the mood of the stanza. The  first line ‘the free bird thinks of another breeze’ suggests the control he has over nature itself although nature can’t be controlled, this suggests the power within the bird. The use of imagery helps to establish a relaxed and peaceful setting when reading through this stanza which is polar opposite to the setting established in the previous stanza when talking about the Caged bird. The use of internal rhyme ‘dawn bright lawn’ also known as consonance, this incorporates a beat to the stanza which once again, adds onto the mood and tone.

Stanza 5:

This stanza specifically oozes emotion through the use of heart-wrenching metaphors and links back to previous stanzas creating a ‘recap’ type of effect. The stanza begins with ‘But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams’. The use of sibilance helps the reader to recreate the sound and ‘live’ the words rather than just read it. The stanza concludes with a repetition of the previous stanzas which as aforementioned creates a ‘recap’ of what the narrator has talked about

Stanza 6:

This stanza is a repetition of the third stanza and it once again creates a recap of what the narrator has talked about. It’s obvious that the message is a fight for equality amongst all races and to dismantle the social construct of racism, this stanza is a reminder of what history has done throughout the years, the pain that the African-American community has gone through whether it be physical or mental.

Critical analysis Checklist:

Title/Author/DateThe Allegory, Caged bird written By Maya Angelou in 1983 addresses the horrific truth of racism throughout history for the African-Americans. Depicting the life of a hopeful yet oppressed Caged Bird, a symbolic representation of the African-American society at the time. Whilst comparing the life of a Free Bird, a symbolic representation of the White community. 
SubjectThe poem used symbolism as its main way to communicate to the reader. The caged bord is a representation of a common black man whereas the free bird represents the common white man, as the poem compares the lives of the two birds, the reader begins to understand the horrific truth of racism and what it does to a person.
Theme/ConcernThe poem addresses oppression of races and fights for a better world with equality amongst races, specifically between the white and black races.
Speaker/Speaker situationAs aforementioned the poem describes the life of the caged and free birds despite all the inconsistency in the form, purpose and tones, one constant would be the speaker. The poem is narrated in third person which represents no bias when comparing the two birds, by narrating the poem in third person the reader would be able to see the different perspectives from each bord and realize that this poem is saying nothing but the truth.
ToneThe tone varies throughout the entire poem but there is a constant of tons within each stanza. The first stanza when talking about the free bird gives off a relaxed tone which aligns with the context of the stanza itself, any stanzas that talks about the free bird would always have a relaxed or empowering tone throughout the poem. When the narrator begins to talk about the caged bird throughout any of the stanzas the tone immediately shifts to something that’s rather blunt yet hopeful, which once again aligns with the upsetting and enraging context.
FormAlthough the poem being a ballad, the overall form of the poem is rather unstructured.
VocabularyThe use of symbolism to represent the black and white community plays a prominent role in the poem. (Caged bird, Free Bird)
ImageryThe  first line ‘the free bird thinks of another breeze’ suggests the control he has over nature itself although nature can’t be controlled, this suggests the power within the bird.
Rhythm/RhymeThere is no set rhythm scheme other than the use of internal rhyme (which evidently shown in the 4th stanza) because the narrator wanted the focus to solely be on the implied message since a consistent rhythm being more explicit, would attract the reader and deviate them from realizing the purpose of this poem.
Personal ResponseThis poem truly does show the horrific truth of our world, this poem doesn’t just send out a message to the reader but also shows the reader the importance of equality and how our world could be a better place. The narrator most definitely doesn’t sugar coat anything throughout the poem and shows the reader the real truth which should be appreciated since usually everything bad going on in our world would either become obsolete to the public or would essentially be ignored by everyone.