I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,  The Theme of Identity

We are studying this novel as part of the IDENTITY component of the A2 English course.  Various social realities, personal influences and experiences shape Maya’s identity. 

Discuss the following and make notes
  • The prologue (“my skinny legs …  my black ugly dream …  I was really white”)
  • P.12 (Shakespeare, Kipling, Poe, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes …)  Chp.20 (Jane Eyre)
  • P.18 (“my family was handsome to a point of pain for me”)
  • + P.48 + P.51-52 P.20 (Bailey as “Kingdom come”)
  • P.21-22 (Black and white)  See also: Chp.3 (ex-sheriff), Chp.5 (“powhite trash children”), P.40 (beware of whitefolks), Chp.19 (Joe Louis)
  • P.61 (“I didn’t come to stay”)
  • Bottom P.63 (pleasure in being held by Mr Freeman)
  • P.65-66 (comic book heroes)
  • Chp.12 (rape, terror)
  • P.74-75 (guilt over Freeman’s death, refusal to speak)
  • P.76 (thrashing by adults who felt offended)
  • Chp.15 (Mrs Flowers, who “threw me my first life line”)
  • Chp.16 (Mrs Cullinan’s china - Marguerite fights for her name)
  • Chp.18 (Christian revivalist meeting – the prospect of release from oppression)
  • P.186 (Maya’s allegiances at this time: Momma – determination; Mrs Flowers – books; Bailey – love; Mother – gaiety; Miss Kirwin – information; evening classes – drama/dance)
  • P.191 (Varieties of language – “We learned to slide out of one language and into another without being conscious of the effort”)
  • Chp.30 (Maya drives her drunken father from Mexico to the USA)
  • Chp.32 (Maya lives in a junkyard for a month – “My thinking processes had so changed that I was hardly recognizable to myself.  The unquestioning acceptance by my peers had dislodged the familiar insecurity”)
  • Chp.34 (the battle to become a streetcar conductor)
  • P.230 (“the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power” – forces that create tough Black women)
  • Chp.35 (sexual identity crisis, pregnant at 16)
  • P.240 (“fear, guilt, and self-revulsion” …  “school recovered its lost magic” …  Initial fear of inadequacy as a mother, then confidence …)
Try to group the factors that shape Maya’s emerging identity:

e.g. discrimination against Black people; oppression of women; Literature; the Bible heroes/heroines.

Colour code the notes above to match your groups.