The analysis of this poem must begin with the title and itsrelevance to the life of Maya Angelou. “Caged bird” immediately suggests thatthe poem will involve the restrictions imposed by society. Evident in the poemare two traditional literary themes; society, and the survival of the unfit,the second theme being race, and how the contrasting environments of freedom ofthe world and the restrictive surroundings in society caged the bird. In thisessay, I will be exploring the theme of feminism and how Angelou has usedfeminist theory to portray the captivity of society she is inclined to, due torace and society’s patriarchy. The first link that can be made between society andAngelou’s work is the use of metaphor to illustrate her restrictions in society.Angelou uses a “caged bird” metaphorically to describe herself in society, thebird representing herself and the cage being the unbroken norms of patriarchyin society. Feminist theory would suggest this to be the social construct ofsociety at the time. This is exemplified in her work as she says “and dips hiswings” “and dares to claim the sky” knowingly that “his feet are tied” and “hiswings 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’smale dominant nature has her captivated. This demonstrates the main focus ofthe poem being symbolism, interpreting the free bird as a man and the cagedbird representing a woman. Maya Angelou uses tone to illustrate the bitternessof the captivity of women through diction.
“His bars of rage” she uses thewords “rage” and “his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream”, “shouts”. Fromthis, 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 imageryto create opposing ideas of how men and women are seen and their roles insociety.
This again can be explored through a feminist lens as the exploitationof the subordinate nature and vulnerability of women. Explaining how men insociety are able to refrain the bird from escaping her cage and keeping a cleardistinction between the ‘free’ and the ‘caged’ bird. The free bird “floatsdownstream” “in the orange sun rays” opposed to the caged bird that can “seldomsee through his bars of rage” – another illustration of society’s restrictionson women, Feminist theory would suggest the cage of the bird to be the home ornatural birth place of a woman, again portraying the social construct of a dominantpatriarchy. These quotes demonstrate how society has captivated women in cagesand cast upon them strict rules they are obliged to follow, contrary to this isman. The “man” in this society is the “free bird” who spreads hiswings and “floats downstream”; the use of imagery such as this depicts to thereader that men in this society live a gentle and carefree life. Men are inopposition to the weak women the hegemonic fathers of society.
From a feministlens this captivity could be seen as a way of reinforcing men’s strengths andendorsing the authority men desire to have and maintain. Additionally, a link that can be made between the poem andthe theme of society is the use of repetition and rhyme. Angelou usesrepetition and rhyme to emphasise her message. “But a bird that stalks down hisnarrow ‘cage’ can seldom see through his bars of ‘rage’. Emphasis is being puton this verse due to the image the stanza is depicting of how the restrictionsof 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 thathave been placed on women. Similar to this as would be suggested by feministtheory are the ‘narrow’ views of society at the time.
Another implication thatcan be made is that the narrowness of the cage illustrates the amount offreedom women have to be limited to, which is likened to the amount of space thereis within the ‘narrow’ cage, this can be linked back again to the house orkitchen being the stereotypical natural birthplace of women. Notable within the text is the identical nature of twostanzas. The use of repeating these stanzas has emphasised the “fearful trill”and longing for freedom that is mentioned; it emphasises the tone used in thepoem to be frustrated and bitter as although society shows no hope of freeingthe bird it continues to “sing of freedom.” What’s more, Angelou’s use of repetition can also beidentified as a method of depicting patriarchy in society and social struggleof dominance between men and women. Maya Angelou repeatedly illustrates thestruggle of the bird and how it keeps opening “his throat to sing” and “singsof freedom.” This again represents the concept of patriarchal society andoppression of women, linking back to the feminist theory, as men are dominatingthe sky under the “orange sun rays” while women sing songs of “freedom” astheir “wings are clipped” and “feet are tied”. A feminist interpretation ofthis would be the restrictive opportunities that society has placed on women onthe basis that women are inferior to men and role subjective, restrictions suchas the glass ceiling is an example of this assured place in society. Contradictory to this is the opposing half of the poem inwhich 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 graveof dreams.” From this, it can be extrapolated that the men empower dreams andtheir dominance is inevitable to overcome. This can be linked back to feministtheory through the concept of the ‘dark side of the family’, the cage is anillustration of the side of family and patriarchy that isn’t seen, men’sviolent struggle to stay empowered and as a result the breadwinner, argued tobe due to wanting to maintain a strong hegemonic identity.
The second link that can be made between Angelou and societyis through the discussion of race and how the contrasting environments offreedom of the world and the restrictive surroundings in society caged MayaAngelou. Through the use of metaphors, the caged and free bird can instead beseen as the white race being the free and dominant bird and the caged bird tobe the oppressed African American bird, which in this case is exemplified to beAngelou herself. This links back to feminist theory as it is a depiction of thediffering types of oppression faced by women based on society, race andethnicity, making valid the argument that not all oppression or inequality isthe same. Angelou’s caged bird rails against its imprisonment and inspite of its fear, it sings songs of freedom. Throughout the stanzas, the whiterace 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 birdthat would be implied to be the African Americans.Again, Angelou’s use of literary devices such asalliteration, “but a bird that stalks/down his narrow cage/can seldom seethrough/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 hasaffected wellbeing and the level of accomplishment that is allowed to beachieved.
The worms being the metaphor for accomplishment in this stanzaillustrate how close the reach of achievement is but how society prevents thisfrom happening due to racial discrimination against the African American race.Another literary device that has been used to illustrate race in the poem isassonance, ‘but a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams’ suggests that dueto the race, not being in favour of African Americans their dreams have to besacrificed. For the most part, it can be concluded through the poem thatMaya Angelou does represent feminist theory through conflict between society,through the patriarchy and oppression of men and the norms of society, andrace, though the struggles and the fight for dominance between the white racewho claim white supremacy and the African Americans that struggle to endeavoursuccess.