This the Scottsboro Boys’ trial. The next theme is

This critical book analysis is based on the
book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. This book analysis begins
with the description of the time period, setting and the premise of the book.

Then, it moves on the contents of the book which can be related to the class
reading, films and lecture. The main themes include, racism which can be
related to the narrative of Frederick Douglass and the Scottsboro Boys’ trial.

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The next theme is segregation which is related to Plessy vs Ferguson and
Redlining. Finally, there is the theme of white supremacy which is related to
the story of Jack Trice and the film Malcolm X. The analysis then moves into
the lessons learnt about the African American history.

The story of
Maya Angelou begins from her toddler ages in 1930’s until the 1950’s where Maya
grew up during the periods of the Great Depression. Maya depicts that the black
community did not suffer as much when the Great Depression because they were
very much used to poverty. However, the white people however suffered a great
deal and when the depression peaked everyone experienced reduced wages which
affected them badly. According to Maya, at that period of time she only
remembers consuming powdered milk and eggs which by comparison was a lot more
than some people could afford at the time. Segregation was a system in place
where the black people and white people lived on separate parts of townships,
the extent of which can be understood by how black children did not believe
white people to be real until very much later on in their lives. In the early
1940’s, World War 2 had just started and black people could now build homes and
businesses due to opportunities left by those who went to war and when the war
was over the Great Migration began, the black community began moving to the northern
and western states to fill in the void created by the incarceration of the
Asian community. There are several settings in which this narrative took place.

Firstly, there was Stamps, Arkansas. This is the town Maya grew up in and she
was raised by her grandmother whom she dearly called Momma. Momma’s store was
in the heart of the black community in Stamps. The two important parts of the

neighbourhood was the school Maya and her
brother studied in and the Church. Violence spread in Stamps due to the hate
crimes of white men. They terrorized the black community in Stamps. Next is St.

Louis, Missouri. This is where Maya goes to live with grandmother Baxter when
she was 8 years old. Maya hated this place and could never call it home because
it reeked of substance abuse and gambling. Then, there is San Francisco the
place Maya loved. She moved there during the period of the second world war.

Many black people took over the businesses left by the Japanese. Maya’s new
home was surrounded by black owned restaurants, churches and pool halls. The
main premise of this book boils down to 3 major aspects. First, there is the
premise of racism. Uncle Willie had to hide in a vegetable bin because some
white boys were looking for a black man to lynch for the assault of a white
lady. The black people of Stamps lived in fear because of the terror that white
men brought upon them. Bailey also witnessed a while man stepping on the corpse
of a black man whilst laughing about it which comes to show that the live of a
black person has little to no value to the white people. The next theme in play
is the sense of Belonging. Maya was not raised by her real parents. She felt
abandoned for a long time with no real place to call home. She had been the
victim of sexual assault from Mr. Freeman and she moved from place to place to
look for the one place she could someday call home. The only true relative she
had was her brother Bailey. Lastly, Maya talks about her life through the
premise of Self-Acceptance. Growing up, Maya always thought of herself to be
ugly and repelling. She had always dreamt of being a beautiful white girl with
blonde hair. However, through the journey Maya depicted in the book, she soon
came to realize than she was beautiful in her own way and she also started to
love herself.

The book
portrays racism in the form of the brutality towards the black community of
Stamps. When a black man had attacked a white lady, a lynch mob is said to be
coming for innocent black men. Momma, Bailey and Maya had to help hide Uncle
Willie in a vegetable

bin under
potatoes and onions fearing for his life if he was to get caught and killed.

This act of lynching the black community for crimes they have not committed is
related to the Scottsboro boys’ trial. “From the death cell here in Kilby
Prison, eight of us Scottsboro boys is writing this to you. We have been
sentenced to die for something we ain’t never done. Us poor boys been sentenced
to burn up on the electric chair for the reason that we is workers—and the
color of our skin is black.” (Marable and
Mullings, 2009, page 280). It portrays the harsh reality that black men faced
to be hiding in such an undignified manner in fear for his life even though he
was innocent. Also, when Bailey goes to the white part of town and sees a white
man standing over a dead black man’s body with mocking laughter he is
traumatised to the extent of injustice and what little value the life of a
black man is to a white person. This relates to the Douglass narrative where,
“It was common saying even among little white boys that it was worth half a
cent to kill a “nigger,” and half a cent to burry one” (Douglass 1845). When Bailey confronts Momma
and Uncle Willie about it, they send Bailey and Maya off to California because
they fear that the children cannot cope with the prejudiced system in Stamps.

Another important aspect being portrayed in the book is segregation. White
people live separately from the black people to the extent that black children
didn’t know if white people are real and therefore live under the presumption that
white people are inhuman and almost alien-like. Maya talks about how the white
part of town looks very different to that of the part of town she comes from
which reinforces the extent of segregation, as well as how the dentist refused
to treat Maya for her cavities because he “rather stick his hand in a dog’s
mouth than in a nigger’s” (Angelou 1997). Maya was also very upset to hear that
the white schools will receive more funds than predominantly black schools, and
what little funds for the blacks has to go to the athletics’ department. This
is very much related to the issue of Plessy vs Ferguson through their slogan
“separate but equal” in which they fought that white and black people should
ride in separate railroads and railway-cars as well as many other

aspects. “After the U.S. Supreme Court
decided against Homer Plessy in Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896, segregated
streetcars as well as railroads prevailed.” (Painter 2007). Redlining is also
another proof of segregation. Redlining is social stigma which forces black and
white people to live separately. Based on the Mapping Equality website we
reviewed in the lecture, it showed that the presence of black people in a
neighbourhood drastically decreased its real-estate value which in turn caused
most white people to steer clear from such “red zones” (Lab 2017).

supremacy is the most prevailing issue which is very avidly discussed in this
book. There were several forms of white supremacy in play in the book. Momma
had learned the hard way the disadvantage she has due to the color of her skin.

Her store was often visited by white children who referred to her
disrespectfully, one incident which was particularly highlighted by Maya where
a few white kids from the white part of town come by on one evening to mock and
tease Momma yet she did not react to their misbehaviour for she had come to
terms with their unfair reality. Maya was enraged with the way those children
treated Momma. “Everyone I knew respected these customary laws except for
the powhitetrash children” (Angelou 1997). Based on the movie Malcolm X
which was played in class, the dictionary scene in which Malcolm X and his
friend look up the definitions of the word ‘Black’ and ‘White’ was a clear
indication of white supremacy. In that scene, Black was defined to be evil and
shunned whilst white was defined to be pure and good. Another good example of
the cruelty of white supremacy is the tragic death of Jack Trice. “Jack Trice played in his first “real” college football game against
the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. During the second play of the game,
he broke his collarbone.  He insisted he was all right and returned
to the game. In the third quarter, University of Minnesota players forced Trice
to the ground and crushed him” (Jack Trice 2017). This resulted in his
death because the white players of Minnesota thought that it was shameful to
play against a black

man. They believed themselves to be of a
greater level then Jack.

This book has helped people better understand
the history of the African American community. First off, there was life after
slavery. Although slavery officially ended after the 13th Amendment
there were still lingering trades from slavery. Also, the fact that slavery was
still allowed as a form of punishment for crimes created a loop hole for white
people to lynch black people into slavery. There also existed a persistent form
of racism among the white community who refused to share power with the African
American people in the belief that they are more superior. Next is, meagre
living conditions in a prejudiced system due to White Supremacy. Although there
is a lack of legal reasoning for the segregation of black people from white
people, there were strict rules in some neighbourhoods that did not allow white
people to rent to black families. This did not change until recent years. White
supremacy also led to racially motivated hate crimes which still continues to
this day. An example would be the Charleston Church shooting which cost the
lives of many black people. Another thing is the Great Migration which was the
migration of black people from the south to the north during WW2 for better
living conditions. This was deemed possible due to opening up of jobs of those
who left for war. The life of Maya is one of many black lives in that era that
built up to the background of the Civil Rights Movement. She was a civil rights
activist who worked side by side with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr to
reform the black community as we know today.

As a
conclusion, it is shown that the Douglass narrative and Scottsboro Boys’ trial are
related to the theme, racism. Next in line are Plessy vs Ferguson and Redlining
which have ties to segregation and the film Malcolm X and the story of Jack
Trice portray white supremacy. The history of African American people which is
learnt from this book is life after slavery, white supremacy, the great
migration, civil rights movement, brutality and discrimination and


Poverty. Essentially, Maya fittingly titles
her book I Know Why Caged Birds Sing for she believes that caged birds sing
prayers for their release from the bars which reflects Maya being the spirit
yearning for freedom and is crying for help through prayers, due to her strong
religious background, where she hopes that one day she would be able to spread
her wings and fly away from the cage that is the White Supremacy present in her
life to be free and equal just like the white people of her era.