Disturbingly Uncomfortable: Reader Response
As I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir by Maya Angelou there is a great sense of discomfort. Curiously, I don’t doubt that this is exactly how Angelou wants it to be. Nonetheless, it is difficult to step back in time and into her tumultuous childhood life. I helplessly turn the pages and wonder why her childhood had to be so disturbingly difficult? Her poignant memoir reveals the harsh treatment of African Americans in the south, during the years preceding the civil rights movement. She faced oppression because of her gender, and discrimination because of her race. And as if that was not a heavy enough load, the burden of her youth, further required her to be silent.
The backdrop to Angelou’s life begins in Stamps, Arkansas after her parents’ divorce. This too saddens me. She is not blessed with the sounds of quarreling parents as they each tear at a limb in a tug of war over custody and allegiance. The harshness lies in the fact that neither seem to want her. Angelou presents the facts with a softness that passes no judgement on either parent. She is simply sent to live with her grandmother, Mrs. Annie Henderson.
There is a complete dichotomy between the racial abuses she witnesses and the loving kindness of her life with Momma Henderson. I will want to explore this in future analysis. Angelou says of racism, “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult” (Angelou 4).
I come back to the enormous discomfort. Therein lies my connection to the text. The reason the novel resonates with me is because of the stark contrast between my life filled with safety and privilege, and her life filled with abuse and discrimination. I am not a child of divorce, but rather a child in loving supportive nuclear family. I have never been a victim of racism because my skin is what many racists see as “appropriately colored”. I am Caucasian. I have not been raped, or spat at, or ridiculed by white skinned people of society.
So I sit with a sense of confusion and bewilderment. How did society get this way, and why did no one step in to help young Maya? I am merely left with a feeling of disgust at her treatment. Most disturbing, is that in the very pit of my stomach, sits the knowledge that time has not provided solutions, and human beings have not learned to love and live in a world of peace and kindness.
Angelou speaks not only for herself, but for many. She is the voice for women of color. She is the voice for victims of sexual abuse. She is the voice for children of divorce and abandonment. She is the voice of survival.
Most importantly, Maya Angelou is the voice of change. Her words rise up from the pages and penetrate my heart in such a way that I feel compelled to take a stand. There is an urgency to my thoughts and a call to action. No one should feel so horribly oppressed that they cannot sing with their own voice, or soar with their own wings. I want to use my own voice (which has never been caged) to make a difference in the world.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.