The life of Maya Angelou. “Caged bird” immediately

The analysis of this poem must begin with the title and its
relevance to the life of Maya Angelou. “Caged bird” immediately suggests that
the poem will involve the restrictions imposed by society. Evident in the poem
are two traditional literary themes; society, and the survival of the unfit,
the second theme being race, and how the contrasting environments of freedom of
the world and the restrictive surroundings in society caged the bird. In this
essay, I will be exploring the theme of feminism and how Angelou has used
feminist theory to portray the captivity of society she is inclined to, due to
race and society’s patriarchy.


The first link that can be made between society and
Angelou’s work is the use of metaphor to illustrate her restrictions in society.
Angelou uses a “caged bird” metaphorically to describe herself in society, the
bird representing herself and the cage being the unbroken norms of patriarchy
in society. Feminist theory would suggest this to be the social construct of
society at the time. This is exemplified in her work as she says “and dips his
wings” “and dares to claim the sky” knowingly that “his feet are tied” and “his
wings are clipped” Angelou portrays her struggle to escape her “bars of rage”.
Illustrating how despite her cyclical attempt to be free from this patriarchy, society’s
male dominant nature has her captivated. This demonstrates the main focus of
the poem being symbolism, interpreting the free bird as a man and the caged
bird representing a woman. Maya Angelou uses tone to illustrate the bitterness
of the captivity of women through diction. “His bars of rage” she uses the
words “rage” and “his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream”, “shouts”. From
this, it is noticeable that the bird is angry, and the tone of the poem is bitter.


Another method that is used within Angelou’s work is imagery
to create opposing ideas of how men and women are seen and their roles in
society. This again can be explored through a feminist lens as the exploitation
of the subordinate nature and vulnerability of women. Explaining how men in
society are able to refrain the bird from escaping her cage and keeping a clear
distinction between the ‘free’ and the ‘caged’ bird. The free bird “floats
downstream” “in the orange sun rays” opposed to the caged bird that can “seldom
see through his bars of rage” – another illustration of society’s restrictions
on women, Feminist theory would suggest the cage of the bird to be the home or
natural birth place of a woman, again portraying the social construct of a dominant
patriarchy. These quotes demonstrate how society has captivated women in cages
and cast upon them strict rules they are obliged to follow, contrary to this is
man. The “man” in this society is the “free bird” who spreads his
wings and “floats downstream”; the use of imagery such as this depicts to the
reader that men in this society live a gentle and carefree life. Men are in
opposition to the weak women the hegemonic fathers of society. From a feminist
lens this captivity could be seen as a way of reinforcing men’s strengths and
endorsing the authority men desire to have and maintain.


Additionally, a link that can be made between the poem and
the theme of society is the use of repetition and rhyme. Angelou uses
repetition and rhyme to emphasise her message. “But a bird that stalks down his
narrow ‘cage’ can seldom see through his bars of ‘rage’. Emphasis is being put
on this verse due to the image the stanza is depicting of how the restrictions
of society have angered women and made them crave freedom. Use of lexis such as
‘narrow’ to describe the cage illustrates to the reader the strict rules that
have been placed on women. Similar to this as would be suggested by feminist
theory are the ‘narrow’ views of society at the time. Another implication that
can be made is that the narrowness of the cage illustrates the amount of
freedom women have to be limited to, which is likened to the amount of space there
is within the ‘narrow’ cage, this can be linked back again to the house or
kitchen being the stereotypical natural birthplace of women.


Notable within the text is the identical nature of two
stanzas. The use of repeating these stanzas has emphasised the “fearful trill”
and longing for freedom that is mentioned; it emphasises the tone used in the
poem to be frustrated and bitter as although society shows no hope of freeing
the bird it continues to “sing of freedom.”


What’s more, Angelou’s use of repetition can also be
identified as a method of depicting patriarchy in society and social struggle
of dominance between men and women. Maya Angelou repeatedly illustrates the
struggle of the bird and how it keeps opening “his throat to sing” and “sings
of freedom.” This again represents the concept of patriarchal society and
oppression of women, linking back to the feminist theory, as men are dominating
the sky under the “orange sun rays” while women sing songs of “freedom” as
their “wings are clipped” and “feet are tied”. A feminist interpretation of
this would be the restrictive opportunities that society has placed on women on
the basis that women are inferior to men and role subjective, restrictions such
as the glass ceiling is an example of this assured place in society.


Contradictory to this is the opposing half of the poem in
which the dream of Angelou is to be able to “name the sky her own.” This is,
however, undermining the oppression of society as the bird “stands on the grave
of dreams.” From this, it can be extrapolated that the men empower dreams and
their dominance is inevitable to overcome. This can be linked back to feminist
theory through the concept of the ‘dark side of the family’, the cage is an
illustration of the side of family and patriarchy that isn’t seen, men’s
violent struggle to stay empowered and as a result the breadwinner, argued to
be due to wanting to maintain a strong hegemonic identity.


The second link that can be made between Angelou and society
is through the discussion of race and how the contrasting environments of
freedom of the world and the restrictive surroundings in society caged Maya
Angelou. Through the use of metaphors, the caged and free bird can instead be
seen as the white race being the free and dominant bird and the caged bird to
be the oppressed African American bird, which in this case is exemplified to be
Angelou herself. This links back to feminist theory as it is a depiction of the
differing types of oppression faced by women based on society, race and
ethnicity, making valid the argument that not all oppression or inequality is
the same.


Angelou’s caged bird rails against its imprisonment and in
spite of its fear, it sings songs of freedom. Throughout the stanzas, the white
race is shown to be the most empowering and can be depicted as the free bird,
and in control. In comparison, the poem portrays an image of an oppressed bird
that would be implied to be the African Americans.

Again, Angelou’s use of literary devices such as
alliteration, “but a bird that stalks/down his narrow cage/can seldom see
through/his bars of rage…and the fat worms waiting on the dawn bright-lawn,”
show the struggle of race within society, and how being African American has
affected wellbeing and the level of accomplishment that is allowed to be
achieved. The worms being the metaphor for accomplishment in this stanza
illustrate how close the reach of achievement is but how society prevents this
from happening due to racial discrimination against the African American race.
Another literary device that has been used to illustrate race in the poem is
assonance, ‘but a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams’ suggests that due
to the race, not being in favour of African Americans their dreams have to be


For the most part, it can be concluded through the poem that
Maya Angelou does represent feminist theory through conflict between society,
through the patriarchy and oppression of men and the norms of society, and
race, though the struggles and the fight for dominance between the white race
who claim white supremacy and the African Americans that struggle to endeavour



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