Progress for Civilization


Unit 5 Final Blog Post

A Return to My Thesis


As I end my blog, I am called to revisit my thesis because it has framed my thoughts. The perpetuation of inequality is the root of all evil. It distances us from each other, destroys our relationship with God, and halts any semblance of progress for civilization.

So has there been any progress for civilization? That is the million dollar question. Well if we return to the American history books, we know that on July 2, 1964 (less than a year after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated) the Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. Present in the room that day was also Martin Luther King Jr. The act banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or natural origin. It also ended segregation in work, school, and public places. This was a turning point in world history.

Or, was it? Let us take a closer look at the “progress we have made”.

  • American whites still hold 88% of the country’s wealth.
  • According to a 2013 UCLA Law study, up to 43% of LGBT workers reported being fired, denied promotions or harassed because of their gender.
  • In Saudi Arabia women are still not permitted to drive a car.
  • In 2001, the world was enlightened by the practice of men in Kashmir, Pakistan to throw acid on the faces of women who did not dress in the required head to toe burqas.
  • In Iran, Egypt, and Lebanon, the decision making is exclusively controlled by men, leaving women and children to face extreme oppression.
  • According to a 2009 study by the Williams Law Institute, 25.8% of visible minorities reported abuse or discrimination while attending class or school in comparison to 15.2% of their non-visible counterparts.
  • According to a 2013 study by the USA Sentencing Commission, black men receive prison sentences 19.5 % longer than their white counterparts who are convicted of a similar crime.

It took until 1990 for Americans to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. In March of this past year, our own Canadian government just issued a statement indicating that they plan to table a similar piece of legislation. At present nothing exists. I am completely divided in thought. Why on earth has it taken so long to recognize and respond to the needs of the disabled? At the same time, I am perplexed as to why we need a law at all. Can we not be compassionate towards those in need without having a law to make us do it? I assume not.

One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou is “when you know better, you do better.” So what is wrong with us? Why don’t we know any better? I like to think we do know better but apathy plays a part in our actions. When we have a lack of concern or a disinterest in action, nothing is accomplished.

Sometimes “doing nothing” is an option because the solutions can be found in the quiet stillness. However, for a vast majority of the time, it is best to say that when we do nothing, we have indeed done something. We have let our “lack of action” loudly proclaim our stand because we have silently shouted that “we are fine with the way things are.”

We can do better, we must do better, and we will do better.



Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.















Why does the caged bird sing?

Which Theory Provided the Most Insight?

As I reach the end of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the lens which best allows for insight is without reservation, the reader response literary theory. Why? Well, for me, it is hidden in the title. When I started to read the book, I thought with obvious assumption that the title was her title. It isn’t. As I read and turned the pages of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the whisper of a haunting appendage kept asking “…do you?” Yes, now I do!

I don’t know who put the answer in my heart. I certainly do not claim to have conjured the realization solely on my personal literary analysis of the memoir. Maya Angelou seems to act as a vessel for divine intervention. I am certain that I am not unique as a reader but I “get it”. I know why the caged bird sings.

The caged bird, in all its many forms, sings for survival, it sings for hope, and it sings because there is a beauty to one’s own music that can be heard by God and by all those who keep God in their heart. Oppression, discrimination, violence, and a sheer menu of evils continue to plague society. We know this unfortunate truth. However, silence is never the answer and hopefully Angelou’s memoir brings that epiphany to each reader. The caged bird is symbolic of each of us. Angelou learned to “prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and be unsurprised by anything in between” (Angelou 287).

The reader response theory demands the reader to make both personal and global connections. Personally, it was very easy to shake off the southern 1930’s Arkansas setting and bring the words to a more personal time and place. There are racial inequalities in this province and there is violence, oppression, gender inequality, and a host of other sins that mirror those in Arkansas.

In terms of global connections, the treatment of women in some Middle Eastern European countries is every bit as horrific as that found within the pages of Angelou’s work. The more recent 2007 novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini, chronicles such atrocities. Harper Lee’s 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird, mirrors much of the same themes as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, moving the setting to Alabama, instead of Arkansas.

Using the lens of “reader response theory”, I certainly do not encounter any obstacles in “suspending my own values, prejudices or worldviews” to allow the book to work on me. She tells her story so well, that I (as the mere reader) desperately want to fit in to it in some way. I want to be the “white girl” that does something. I want to send the three “po white trash” girls home where they belong, long before they disrespect Momma with racial taunts. I want to walk in on Maya and Mr. Freeman before the rape takes place and call the police to ensure her safety. I want to sit with Maya at lunch during her final grade 12 year and ask her if she needs anything, knowing that she is desperately trying to hide her pregnancy until after graduation. I want to tell Uncle Willie that he doesn’t have to hide in the vegetable bin because he has nothing to fear. I want to assure him that there is no such thing as the KKK and no one is coming to lynch a Negro.

Of course I can’t do it! I can’t do any of it and Angelou knows that. But that is when the whisper returns and provides clarity. I can do something. I can move forward and I can sing now. I can take up the torch where Ms. Angelou left off.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is not a period piece; a single memoir of a snapshot in time. It is timeless, and beckons personal reflection. It is a heart-rending story of adversity, and the amazing ability to overcome it. It is a gift to the reader.

I am not caged. I certainly have experienced not a fraction of the troubles that Angelou faced, but her memoir is a reminder that if and when they come, it is possible to rise up and soar above the sadness and circumstance. We owe it to each other and we owe it to ourselves.



Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.


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The Archetype of Mother in the Character of Mrs. Annie Henderson

The Archetype of Mother in the Character of Mrs. Annie Henderson

The character of Mrs. Annie Henderson epitomizes the archetype of a “mother” in the novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. “Momma”, as she is aptly referred to by her granddaughter Maya, protects, provides for, and bestows spiritual guidance to her grandchildren.

I could not read the memoir without being struck by the overt irony of “Momma’s’ character. She is not their Momma, yet she is far more of a mother than anyone could ever be. When Maya and Bailey Jr. are unable to be cared for by their own mother Vivian, Momma steps in to protect them. She gives them shelter and a loving and safe home. She secures a new home for them, thousands of miles away from their parents.

Annie Henderson also is a provider. She is the breadwinner and provides for the financial needs of the children, without the assistance of a husband. Although the story references her previous marriages, Momma is a single mother (grandmother) who owns the only general store for miles around. She assists her black community by providing them with the store goods they need for their own homes, and the credit they require if they cannot pay. She asks no questions and passes no judgments. Maya observes her “Momma” with awe and reverence.

Like any good mother, Momma demands respect from Maya, and instils the value of manners, an education, and a passion to hope in equality. She does not allow Maya or Bailey to be destroyed by the brutal southern racist environment.

Maya learns from her Momma by watching her endure racial discrimination and oppression. This allows Maya to develop the tools she will need in her own life; a life that will be a very difficult journey. When the three “poor white trash” girls visit the Henderson store and humiliate and disrespect Momma, Maya watches with anger. In contrast, Momma does not teach anger, she teaches “the love of God”. Rather than respond with defiance, Momma simply calls upon her religious beliefs and sings a spiritual song. Maya witnesses the horrific disrespect of the behavior of “white girls” and she remembered her Momma’s words, “You be a good girl now. You hear? Don’t you make people thing I didn’t raise you right. (Angelou 57). She learns that even in the face of oppression, there can come freedom.

Maya says that Momma’s world “was bordered on all sides with work, duty, religion, and her place” (57). Momma guides Maya in the ways of the Lord. She instills faith in her and establishes the daily routine of prayer. She takes Maya to church each Sunday and she teaches Maya traditional African-American spiritual hymns. The phrase “God is love” (57) was a repeated mantra of Momma Henderson. She guided Maya and Bailey toward God’s presence and she helped to establish a strong faith in Maya.

Momma provides care and love for her own disabled son Willie. One night when the Klan are searching for a “crazy Negro” who “messed with a white woman” (16) Momma quickly hides Willie in a bin of vegetables and instructs him to stay there until she can ensure his safety.

Sadly, Momma knows when it is time to move Maya and Bailey away from Stamps, and she does so after Bailey witnessed the retrieval of a black man’s body from a local pond. She is selfless in her love for the children and knows when it is time for them to go. Momma Henderson is the quintessential archetype of a mother. She is a mother, a grandmother, and a community presence which calms “folks” and brings them closer to the healing power of God.


Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.


The Power of Women: Feminist Literary Theory

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.









Disturbingly Uncomfortable

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.




Innocent or Guilty?

You cannot possibly immerse yourself into the drama of Serial, the Adnan Syed podcast, without forming an opinion of his innocence or guilt. I think a blog post is the perfect medium to share my personal thoughts and views on the subject. You won’t require colorful images or a host of guest speakers (like those found in a podcast) to ascertain my conclusions.

To clearly state my thesis, after listening to the podcast, I concluded that Adnan Syed was innocent unless he can be proven guilty. After doing a little research of my own (after the podcast), I dare say Mr. Syed is guilty in my mind, until he can prove himself innocent.

So let’s go back to the podcast. It had more ups and downs than an amusement park ride. Who was lying, and about what? Were the cellphone records accurate or not? Who had the phone? And my favorite was when you had an alibi that would prove innocence, not embraced by the accused who needed it!

Did anybody actually know what they were doing that day or who they were with? It didn’t seem like it. We couldn’t prove he was at the library (they didn’t keep the paper trail). The video tapes were taped over. The puzzle pieces simply didn’t fit and nothing added up.

Upon conclusion of the podcast, I aligned myself with Sarah and felt that an acquittal was the only option. Nothing else seemed remotely reasonable. I was stunned to learn that a jury had convicted him.

When the podcast ended, I clung to the possibility of DNA testing. I searched for an immediate update on the DNA testing in the hopes that Syed could be closer to his deserving release from prison. How surprised I was to find that he had quietly refused the offer of testing after the podcast ended.

Why would any innocent man do that? There was the hope that he would be found innocent or the unfortunate reality that the DNA sample was no longer viable for comparison. Either one would assist his cause. The only thing that would damage his release (and in fact may interfere with the possibility of early parole) would be if the DNA sample was a match.

He had to have doubt, and for that reason, I think Mr. Syed has been guilty all along!








Artistry and Originality

In 1968, the British band Led Zeppelin was formed. Although their rise to fame as rock artists was noteworthy, it was not without controversy.

In present day, dozens of musical artists and groups have faced multimillion dollar lawsuits over a single song; or more specifically, a single stanza within a song. Led Zeppelin appears to be the “king of copyright”! They didn’t just “borrow” a line or two from a previously recorded piece. They copied many songs from many artists.

What they copied and from whom appears not to matter very much at all to their large fan following. That fact alone seems most striking!

Must of the backlash came from peers in the business who perhaps felt swindled out of their due recognition.

Their song “Bring it on Home” was copied from a song of the very same name by Willie Dixon. “The Lemon Song” borrowed its lyrics from the Howlin’ Wolf’s song called Killing Floor. The line, “I should have quit you a long time ago” is blended with the identical musical score. Led Zeppelin doesn’t appear to even minutely attempt to camouflage the theft of the song. This is a clear example of directly copying an original work.

With the song Dazed and Confused, Led Zeppelin has transformed certain elements of the song. They used different lyrics but maintained the same musical score as Jake Holmes did in his original composition.

The famous “Stairway to Heaven” is their most brilliant example of recombining other elements into an original piece by a competing artist. The instrumental additions, namely guitar solos, add to the length and depth of the musical score. Led Zeppelin recombined elements of the original selection (from the band Taurus), with their own unique musical stylings. The copyright is somewhat veiled and is not near as overt as the Dazed and Confused song.

The band had a long and illustrious career. It certainly created something original enough to please millions of fans worldwide. However, their actions do legally interfere with the original copyright.

Does it matter? I am not sure it does.

In artistry, the experience is what propels the art. Paintings may share a common subject or coloring; a song may be reminiscent of a similar melody; a Broadway musical may be based on a novel. However, the experience is singular and held in time.

The problem seems to lie in the greed or weakness of human spirit. To clarify, let me say that, of course artists want recognition for their creations. This may come through fame and/or monetary gain.

The real work needs to be done in regards to the guidelines that creators should follow to avoid “ripping something off”. Acknowledgement and recognition is the key. If Led Zeppelin, and all the other so-called “rip off” artists simply acknowledged their inspiration (i.e. the forgotten original victims) then fame comes to all. Willie Loman said it best in his “attention must be paid” speech.

Where money is involved, it is, unfortunately, not so simplistic. Greed and artistry do not mesh easily!


Graphic retrieved from

As a final note, if Zed Zeppelin made visible, what without them, would not have been possible, is that not somewhat original?

References by Kirby Ferguson.

Retrieved from



The Serial: Adnan Syed

Sarah Koenig opens the podcast by discussing the challenges of memory. I found this to be fascinating. I never really thought about the fact that when you have nothing to hide, and it is a normal day, you will most like be unable to remember specific facts in great detail. On the other hand, if you have committed a murder, you would more likely be able to remember great detail and perhaps work quite diligently to change or shift the details and events of the day.

Was he guilty? Personally, I felt great sympathy for him because I too could not remember the events, specific to 21 minutes, on a given day over a week ago.

It does linger in one’s mind though. Is he so cunning that he knows exactly how to play the memory loss card, or is he completely innocent?

After Sarah shared the peculiarity surrounding memory, I could not detract myself from the fact that his friend and co-gravedigger Jay, had an incredible memory of the day. Was it Jay that had been the true murderer?

In my research into this case, I found it startling to read that the judge ordered a retrial of the case only 22 hours ago. Perhaps after 17 years, there will finally be some better evidence brought forward.

photo from


The Importance of English 4U

This is my very own blog for my English 4U course. I look forward to sharing exciting and thoughtful dialogue.

You Never Forget a Feeling

( graphic from › Living › Self Improvement)

Should grade 12 University English be a requirement for entry into all university programs?

Mastery of English is essential for success in a university program and as such, grade 12 English should certainly be a requirement for entrance into any program. We have all heard the common defense of “I don’t plan to take English at university”, and although that may be the case for many students, it does not excuse the fact that mastery of the language is needed for all subject areas. The finest way to improve language skills is to study the language, so a grade 12 credit is essential.

Let us (for just a moment) forget about all the academic demands. After all, who can argue that English won’t creep into lab reports in biology, blog posts in cultural studies, media presentations in international development studies, data summaries in accounting submissions, and analysis or exams in physics? Do you really think there is any conceivable way we can escape it?

However, what about course registration, correspondence with faculty, exam guidelines and schedules, or navigating the course calendar?

What about accessing library material, or even more daunting, comprehending it? This essential skill will be a requirement in all courses, not just first year English literature.

English literature isn’t everything. Have people gone before us and had amazing experiences at university without a grade 12 credit? Yes, I am sure they have. They have likely accomplished great things are are wonderful people. They have met new friends, traveled, learned, and enjoyed all that post-secondary has to offer. They have lived rewarding and meaningful lives.

University is a time of excitement; a time to remember. Can we make it through without an extra high school English course? Of course we can, but why not start strong and give ourselves every possible advantage?