English / A Simple Song

A Simple Song

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Autor:  anton  25 March 2011
Tags:  Simple
Words: 1210   |   Pages: 5
Views: 215

Listen. A bird is chirping sweetly; the inviting sound coming from somewhere off in the distance. The music is charming, but there is hollowness in the tone. The bird is trapped inside a cage. Why would something caged want to sing? The thought entered my mind each time I leafed through the book’s pages. Were all the characters in the story caged? Some people were masked, hidden behind familiarities. Others feared their lives would never change, while still others cringed at rejection. Many different characters are mentioned throughout Maya’s story, but their situations are unique. The characters in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings were trapped, and the different cages they lived in ruled their lives.

My mother told me being different made me “special”. She never implied anything negative, but our culture has taken uniqueness that way. Uncle Willie was a cripple since age three and was not able to do everything “ordinary” men could do. “He couldn’t pretend that he wasn’t crippled, nor could he deceive himself that people were not repelled by his defect,” (11) Maya relates in her book. When she came home one day, she walked into the store and Uncle Willie was entertaining a few guests. She noticed Uncle Willie was not using his cane and was standing up as straight as his crippled body allowed. Perplexed, Maya could not imagine why these two people needed to take back a picture of a “whole Mr. Johnson.” These people were strangers, never to be seen again after that day. “He must have been tired of being crippled, as prisoners tire of penitentiary bars and the guilty tire of blame” (13). Uncle Willie hid his physical self so others could see him as normal. To be human was to be whole. “He was also proud and sensitive. Therefore, he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t crippled, nor could he deceive himself that people were not repelled by his defect” (11). Uncle Willie did not want pity or contempt because of his handicap, yet he disguised his crippled-ness in an effort to be normal. He, like others in this story, was afraid to be considered different. His words went out to strangers as a bird’s song being carried by the wind, and he hoped no one would open an eye an see the bird with a bad wing.

“Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil” (2-3). Maya had many cages early in life, but her view of herself as ugly led her late nights of crying and questions of sexuality. From an early age, Maya wished to be something she was not. The biting words “cruel fairy stepmother” set a sulking tone for the rest of the book. She was a freak, not only because of her skin color, but also because of her appearance. To be ugly and black was to be without arms and legs; she was totally useless to the world. Maya Angelou was handicapped with a burden she would, without intervention, carry the rest of her life. Her sense of unattractiveness left her feeling alone and unloved.

Toward the end of the book, Maya questions her sexuality. “Was there something so wrong with me that I couldn’t share a sensation that made poets gush out rhyme after rhyme…?”(282-283). Being caged, with no affection shown, left a gaping hole in Maya’s heart. She wanted to be a stunning bird singing in a cage, with gazing onlookers everywhere admiring her exquisiteness. Did it matter if beauty would enslave her in a jail cell of expectations? “I believe most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise” (280). Her unattractiveness had led her to a deep, dark place: being unlovable. She questioned her sexuality not because of an attraction to someone, but because Maya questioned her life.

Hallelujah (renamed Glory), the cook for Miss Cullinan, is caged by something else: her complacency. “My name used to be Hallelujah. That’s what ma named me, but my mistress give me ‘Glory,’ and it stuck. I likes it better too” (109). Glory was like a lost sheep. “Don’t mind, don’t pay that no mind. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words. . . You know, I been working for her for twenty years” (109). Miss Glory was a descendent of slaves. Losing her name was like losing a family member. Although not described in the book, imagining her being treated as merely a possession, much like a fridge or a lamp is fairly easy. She had lost her name, her feelings, and most importantly, Glory had lost herself. Finding her true self while inside society’s hand-carved cage would be difficult. It had thick bars, so thick in fact that Miss Glory could not see that a world of freedom ever existed. The bird in the cage was mutilated, easily adaptable to what others felt it should be.

During her life, Maya Angelou experienced more than her share of people telling her she was not or would never be good enough. Mr. Edward Donleavy, the speaker at Maya’s eighth grade graduation crushed the hopes of the audience by telling them that only a few jobs would be opened to them after schooling. “The white kids were going to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gaugins, and our boys (the girls weren’t even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owens and Joe Louises” (179). Mr. Donleavy had just sealed the fates for all in the room who were willing to believe his crushing words, for all who did not mind a smaller cage. “The man’s dead words fell like bricks around the audience and too many settled in my belly” (179). Maya relates how heads dropped all around as hope was lost. Nothing a black girl did would amount to anything. Instead of fighting this, the crowd at graduation accepted it. Had it not been for the other boy speaking at graduation, the crowd would have left the audience with the weight of their shortcomings tied around their necks.

Trapped. It is a feeling of hopelessness, like being stuck underwater with no means of escape. The cages around the characters press on them and rule their lives. They cannot escape these invisible prisons. The caged bird sings not because it is happy, but it sings as a reminder. It wants a life free to roam the blue sky and smell the roses and grass as it whizzes past. The songs the bird sings are reminders of better days gone by. “And now I heard, really for the first time:

‘We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.’ (184)

The caged bird sings in order to survive. To take a piece of hope and to turn it into reality keeps the birds alive. Listen. Do you hear the birds singing? Their simple song is meant for all to hear, the only thing that escapes the confines of their cages.

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