The Power of Women
In Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou does a remarkable job of portraying the power and strength of a woman.
I will pause for a moment and allow the immediate backlash and rebuttals to be hurdle at me before I proceed. Yes, I read the complete book, all 289 pages and I understand, with great clarity, the details presented. Women were raped and ridiculed. Women lived in poverty and faced a male dominated, white’s only racist environment. Caucasian women tended to hold firm their grasp on privilege and indulgences, perpetuating the social and racial classes. Women worked as “domestics” and servants, with no great opportunities for advancement or education.
Those are the threads of Angelou’s story. All of that is true, but the lines of her memoir also craft a story of female power, endurance and hope. This motif is what sings most loudly. Her words show that change is possible and that women can assist other women to reach their full potential.
I am struck by the power of Mrs. Flowers, an educated woman of color, who is introduced to Marguerite after Marguerite is brutally raped and traumatized into muteness. She awakens a joy within Marguerite which is the escape and comfort of literature. Mrs. Flowers symbolizes strength. It was a man who brutally rapes Marguerite, and fashioned her silence, but it is the loving arms of a woman, Mrs. Flowers, who helps to heal her.
Mrs. Flowers invites Marguerite to “come and walk along with me” (97) and assures her that “no one is going to make you talk” (98). Symbolically, Angelou learns that her path is safe and her future is hopeful when she walks along side of a woman.
Power is demonstrated through the knowledge that Mrs. Flowers is educated. She shares a passion for literature. The power of reading emphasizes the “normalization” of Maya’s world and the equalization that is possible within society. Her gender, race, age, or social status does not diminish the power she has to enjoy reading and to thrive using literature.
Born in 1928, Maya Angelou’s life was limited and restricted simply because she was a female. She had to navigate the existing patriarchal society, still heavily weighed down by lynch mobs, the Klu Klux Klan, the depression era, and the rigid expectations of female roles within day-to-day Arkansas life.
Females were often discouraged and denied access to education despite emerging “equality laws”. Social norms simply perpetuated themselves and oppression continued. This was the case for much of her life.
The social norms lie as the unfortunate stones along her path. However, also along her path are examples of female strength. Mrs. Flowers is an educated woman of color, her grandmother, Momma Henderson is a shopkeeper and land owner, and her own mother Vivian (although not without flaws) is described as an independent women of great beauty.
Power, strength, endurance, determination, and survival are also written onto the pages of Angelou’s memoir. They ring even more poignant because mere survival isn’t the end point of her story. Her story is one of attainment of goals, victory over oppression and violence, and triumph of the human spirit.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.