BACKGROUND OF THE POEM

“Caged Bird“ was published in Maya Angelou’s 1983 poetry collection, Shaker, Why, Don’t You Sing? It is believed that Maya Angelos’s background as an African-American influenced the content of the poem.

Caged Bird” tells about the restricted movement that comes alive within the context of the horrid African-American community experience in the United States of America, the enslavement of many Americans for over 300 years because of the color of their skin, the enactment and institutionalized official and unofficial politics that allows some races more than others, such as the Jim Crow law that oppresses the blacks and ensures that they never get to the position of equal citizenship with the whites, the disenfranchisement and deliberate abuse of their fundamental human rights, among many others.

It is in this atmosphere that Maya Angelou writes to portray the stark reality of life in the United States of America where racism is sustained and institutionalized.

SUMMARY Of Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s“ Caged Bird examines a circumstance that surrounds the caged bird and the free bird. It is inarguably known that the poem was informed by some of the restrictions and rejections Maya Angelou faced because of her skin color.

The poem is one of the most moving and eye-opening poems ever written. Angelou’s autobiography titled; “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” has a similar title to the poem. This denotes the significance of the title to Angelou, as it is similar to the title of her entire life story.

In her autobiography, she talked about the struggle of being a black author and poet. This poem metaphorically presents the nature of the life of an average African American, in the united states of America. The entire poem of 38 lines in six stanzas compares and contrasts two birds- one that is free and the other that is caged.

The free bird flies around the wind currents, feeling as though the sky belongs to it while the caged bird can barely move even in its prison. The anger and the frustration of being caged even with clipped and tired feet that all it can do is sing fearfully of the things it wants and does not know. It sings for its freedom and everyone, even those far distant, could hear its song.

However, these birds are a symbolic representation of the two main racial groupings in the United States, the whites and the African Americans. The bird that is free and whose movement is not restricted represents the whites in twentieth-century America while the caged bird metaphorically represents the African American.

We see these contrasting and obvious prejudices all through the lines of the poem, the free bird is focused on the breeze, the sounds the trees make, the worms in the ground he’s planning on eating. The poet’s persona reiterates the fact that the free bird feels as though it owns the sky. But the caged bird stands on the grave of dreams. The poem concludes with the caged bird singing once more, as the poet repeats in the last stanza.

THEMES

Oppression and Discrimination

The contrasting image of freedom and bondage runs through the poem “Caged Bird”. The poem describes a “caged bird”-a bird that is trapped in a “narrow cage” with limited mobility, only able to sing about the freedom it has never had and cannot attain. while in the First and fourth stanzas, we see a bird blissfully enjoying its freedom in the great outdoors.

This caged bird is an extended metaphor for the African-American community’s past and ongoing experience of race-based oppression. It captures the irresistible anguish and cruelness of the oppression of marginalized communities as it is related to the emotional suffering of the “caged bird”.

The free bird represents the whites in American society. In lines,10—11 the poem states that the caged bird “can seldom see through his bars,” which seems at first as if the poem is going to explain how being in the cage limits the bird’s line of sight.

Instead, the poem further describes the bars as being “bars of rage”—the bird is imprisoned and certainly the physical bars of the cage limit its line of sight, but the bird can “seldom see” because these conditions make the bird blind with rage. The oppression of the cage doesn’tjust keep the bird captive; the captivity changes the bird, and in so doing robs the bird of its very self.

Music is a Channel of Emotion, Action, and Independence.

“Caged Bird” actively and explicitly debates the notion that the musical expression of an oppressed group is a sign of contentment. The poem asserted that Music is a form of therapy. Emotions such as anger, pain, love, and fear are likely transformed into different forms of art such as writing, dancing, acting, singing, etc. In lines 19 and 35, The caged bird ‘tune is heard’ which simply denotes a channel through which the caged bird can purge its emotion.

Freedom vs. Captivity

The poem “Caged Bird” compares and contrasts the experience of a free bird with that of a bird held in captivity. While part of this contrast is meant to convey the injustice forced upon the captive bird, the comparison also allows the poem to explore how a free being thinks and acts, and to argue that freedom is a natural state for living beings. As an extended metaphor for the historical oppression of African Americans in the United States, the idea that freedom is a human’s natural state of existence, further
demonstrates the cruelty and injustice of race-based oppression in the United as embedded in Lines 1-38. The caged bird’s longing for freedom also demonstrates the black community’s resilience against this oppression.

The caged bird, unlike the free bird, is completely immobilized-not only is the bird held captive in a cage, but its wings are clipped and its feet tied; thus, even if the bird were to escape his cage, he would still be unable to move or fly. The caged bird, being tied and clipped represent how oppression imprisons individuals and communities and also how it seeks to limit them in ways that can then be used to justify their imprisonment: for instance, a bird with clipped wings and bound feet couldn’t possibly survive outside a cage, so the person who put it there can then justify keeping the bird in the cage to keep it safe.

The overwhelming and cruel demonstration of oppression is also a result of the immobilized status of the caged bird. A bird that is already caged does not need to also have its wings clipped or its feet tied-in this poem, the bird is subjected to all three. The poem, then, serves as a nuanced and damning portrait of all forms of racism and discrimination, and in particular of the racism and oppression perpetrated by the United States against African Americans.

Freedom as a Universal and Natural Right

As the poem, “Caged Bird” explores the behavior of the free and the captive, it also makes clear that the desire for freedom is an organic, universal impulse that cannot be bound or destroyed. The poem states that the caged bird sings “of things unknown / but longed for still.” The speaker then clarifies: “the caged bird/singledom.” Because freedom is a thing “unknown” to the caged bird, the implication is that the caged bird was not taken from his natural environment, but rather was likely born in his cage and
has never known anything else. The caged bird has never known freedom but still understands what freedom is, and yearns for it. That the understanding of freedom seems to be universal suggests that freedom is the natural, biological state of living things.

STRUCTURE

‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou is a six-stanza poem that is separated into stanzas that range in length. The poem is written in free verse which means it has no rhyme scheme or metrical pattern that unites all the lines. However, there are some examples of an iambic meter. This adds to the overall musicality of the poem. lambs are also generally referred to as “rising” feet in that the second syllable is stressed. This plays into the content of the caged bird and the free bird. Additionally, one must take note of the instances in which the poet makes use of half-rhyme.

LITERARY DEVICES

Repetition
The use of repetition is seen throughout the poem but most prominently in the structure of the stanzas and the continual reference to the “free bird” and “caged bird”. One of the best examples is seen in the sixth stanzas in which the poet repeats the entire third stanza.

Alliteration

Alliteration is another form of repetition but one that is solely focused on the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “sun” and “sky” at the end of stanza one and “cage / can” in lines three and four of stanza two.

Enjambment

Enjambment is an important literary device that’s also quite common in contemporary poetry. It appears when a poet chooses to cut off a sentence or phrase with a line break before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines three and four of the second stanza.