Sing My Caged Bird Sing  

            I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings depicts a time period in American history that many Americans would rather leave behind and forget for its illiberal and subordinate actions towards the minority black community. Maya Angelou wrote this autobiography to acknowledge such events in history, and to make Americans remember the hardships people faced during this time period; with the hope to have an end to this immense setback in history. Maya describes her childhood in a southern town of Stamps, Arkansas during the 1930’s. As a child, Maya was introduced to a world of segregation, displacement and racism; which molded her life and character as an adult. She then describes her new life in California during the 1940’s where she finds new opportunities and becomes aware of life itself. Maya is faced with overwhelming obstacles and barriers throughout her lifetime that make her progress and develop a distinct viewpoint towards life.        

            During the 1930’s the black community faced a verity of barriers that hindered their progression in society, especially in the south. Blacks faced segregation, prejudice and racism that diminished their statues and mobility in society, and black women faced an additional barrier of sexism. Maya illustrates this world with the viewpoint of a young black girl who is vulnerable to all of these setbacks in society. Three events took place where Maya describes such factors being displayed in her personal life; a dentist denying her as a patient, her white boss replacing her name to Mary, and at her eighth-grade graduation where the speaker looks down upon the black community in higher education. All of these occasions were influenced by the establishment of segregation and prejudice taking place in society. Blacks and whites were so apart in Stamps that Maya did not even believed in the existence of whites on earth and saw them as aliens. Society was able to overcome such barriers by taking refuge in church activities, keeping their dignity when disrespected by others, and even using extreme measures like violence as Vivian’s family did in St. Louis, Missouri.

            The climax of the story was Maya’s accomplishment of reaching adolescence and developing a full understanding of her obstacles in life. When Maya moves to California to live with her father she has an argument with his girlfriend, and then sheepishly runs away for a month. During that time she comes to her realization of life and is taught life lessons about the acceptance and appreciation of diversity. This allows her to strive for awareness in prejudice and challenges society’s barriers towards women and the black community. In result she becomes the first black streetcar conductor that establishes her first step in her long life of change in the world. At the very end of her autobiography Maya enters the world of motherhood while holding her baby and finally understanding love and companionship in a lonely world. Before, she would avoid her son because of her fear of causing him any harm or not being able to handle herself having him in her arms. One day her mom, Vivian, gives her a lesson in motherhood and advised her to just have her heart in the right place which would guide her with the right decisions towards her son’s wellbeing. Her mother’s advises has a hidden message and apology of not being there during her early years and making her feel lonely in life, but also gives off Vivian’s remorse of being apart from her children during that time. Vivian finally persuades Maya to sleep with her son in the same bed. Maya is still shaken by the overall sensation of being so close to her son that see tries to stay awake, but fails to do so. At the very end she closes her eyes and lies with her son peacefully beside her.

The time period of the autobiography takes place during the 1930’s through 1950’s where segregation is still emplaced in American society and the black community as well as other minority races are being targeted by prejudice actions. Segregation and prejudice are emphasized in this book to illustrate the overall theme of rising from the ashes like a phoenix by surpassing and destroying such barriers. Blacks were not treated equally as whites, and women were also victims of sexism during Maya’s childhood and adulthood that influenced her own perspective. Maya states that her life was a nightmare fill with ugliness and would soon be awaken into her true body having blond hair and blue eyes. This statement illustrated Maya’s true perspective of her own race and sees it as unattractive and incomparable to the beautiful and perfection of white folks. She later states that she would rather be a boy then a girl; which demonstrates the different status and acceptance of both genders in society. In spite all of these negative ideas about her; Maya was able to overpass them and development a strong character determined for a change. Maya is able to connect to the modern world by choosing a universal aspect in life, racism and prejudice; which today unfortunately is still seen in America. The minority population in America is still being hindered by these factors in society, and one way to prevent such matters is by surpassing them and addressing their long term effects. Maya addresses this aspect and is an ideal example of a survivor of these cruel actions of human beings.

The most interesting part about this book is the emphasis in philosophical actions and thoughts of human beings especially with children. The viewpoint of a child in Maya’s autobiography gives the reader a fuller understanding of her own life and development from childhood into adulthood. Her viewpoint is very different from today’s ordinary eight year old because of the exposure to more sever situations; segregation and constant prejudice emplaced in society at that time. The one thing that surprised me was the cruel actions of Mr. Freeman of rapping Maya as a child. I was not expecting such betrayal from him or to even consider having those thoughts towards Maya. Mr. Freeman took advantage of Maya who was lonely, in need of affection, confused and made her believe his actions were acts of love towards her. This event devastated a child’s life and destroyed her purity and childhood. Maya’s autobiography demonstrates the cruelty and hardship of black children during the 1930’s through 1950’s and the influence of ideology in a society. As a whole I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings deserves a five star rating from its twisted and turns to its magnificent and elaborate intertwining of threading events.

Rhetorical Triangle

Maya Angelou is the author and main character in her autobiography that describe the hardships for the black community during the 1930’s through 1950’s in America. Maya’s ethos demonstrates a very creditable source of information even though it mainly accounts her as a child. Her reliability, expertise and fairness can also be reinforced by her position as a civil-right activist in later years.  The overall message Maya wants to portray is hope in overcoming barriers that may hinder ones progression in life. Maya directs this message towards Americans and more specifically the black and minority community as well as those ignorant to such matters in history described in her book. The importance of this message to the audience is to inform and prevent prepetition of our past mistakes and to also acknowledge the hardships the black community faced during this time period. Her tone of philosophical observations in her personal life strengthens the message to the audience because it gives a more real and universal feeling. In other words her tone gives the audience the sensation of reality and a “you are there” feeling. Maya is able to communicate her message by depicting the setting in a southern town during the 1930’s. Right away Maya lets the audience develop some connotative thoughts by linking the setting to segregation, racism, and prejudice towards the black community.  This image also invokes both pathos and logos appeals to the audience. The overall idea of segregation depriving groups of people from certain things or opportunities is a logos appeal which is logical. This story however, focuses more on emotional or pathos appeals that deliberately help convey a stronger message to the audience. Describing the event when she was raped by a man who she trusted invoked a verity of emotions from sadness, to anger, to fear, to irony. Another way Maya evoked emotions was when she gave birth to her first child something that could relate among the audience and share emotions of happiness or fear. The overall purpose of this book is awareness towards these historical events that consist of segregation and diminishment of minorities in society.    

Side Notes from:

The Rhetorical Triangle



Three important elements come into play when creating any kind of argument.  These are illustrated by the rhetorical triangle:

Logos:  Rational or Logical Appeals.  Appeal to logical reasoning ability of the audience through use of facts, case studies, statistics, experiments, logical reasoning, analogies, anecdotes, authority voices, etc.  Are writer’s claims reasonable?  Is there sufficient evidence to support those claims?  Does the speaker make logical conclusions?  Does he/she talk about counter-arguments, other opinions or points of view?



Pathos:  Emotional Appeals.  Appeal to beliefs/feelings of the audience.  An appeal of pathos can move an audience to anger or tears as a means of persuasion.  May attempt to invoke particular emotions such as fear, envy, patriotism, lust, etc.   Or, an appeal of pathos may stem from shared values between the author and the audience, or from an argument that caters to an audience’s beliefs.      



Ethos:  Ethical Appeals.    Appeal based on the character, persona, and/or position of the speaker.  This kind of appeals give the audience a sense of the author as competent/fair/an authority figure.  Such an appeal may highlight the author’s trustworthiness, credibility, reliability, expert testimony, reliable sources, fairness, celebrity, etc.          

Using the Rhetorical Triangle to Analyze Media Messages


The media – advertisements, and often TV shows and movies, are visual arguments.  They attempt to persuade readers to buy a product/viewpoint using the same kinds of appeals authors use when constructing a written argument.  So, when you analyze a piece of media, it is important to remember the rhetorical triangle.  Ask yourself:  Who is the author?  How is the author trying to represent himself/herself?  What is the message and how is that message coming across?  Is the argument logical/emotional?  Who are the intended receivers of the message?  Is the argument having its desired effect on those receivers?


Specific Questions to Consider (No, not necessarily all at once…):


The Author

  • Who is the author?  Is it a business firm trying to sell you a product or a service, a public organization seeking to inform you about its policies, a politician trying to win your allegiance, an interest group or media member trying to change your opinion about an issue?  Other? 
  • What is the ethos (general credibility) of the author?
  • What is the ad trying to accomplish?  In other words, what is the sender’s “problem?”  There is often some kind of communication problem behind an ad or campaign.  For example, the authors may seek more awareness on the part of the receiver, or more legitimacy for themselves.  Are you aware of any problems the sender (company) may be having within that specific industry, market, or area of activity?


The Message

  • What is the simple message of the media?  What product is the ad trying to sell?  What is the subject of the movie/TV show?
  • What is the true message of the media?  Are there any hidden meanings the receiver is intended to observe?  Do any connotations come to mind when you view the media?
  • What ideologies or values does the piece of media invoke?  In other words, what images, discourses, concepts, myths, etc. of the culture does the media use when making an appeal?
  • How is the message presented?  In an advertisement, what is the layout?  What images, text appear, etc.?  If it is a TV Show or movie, who are the characters?  What is the setting, etc?
  • How does the media connect concrete features with abstract values?  In other words, how does the presentation of the message communicate deeper/abstract meanings (our values/norms) in addition to the simpler meaning (what is being sold)?


The Receiver

  • Who is the targeted audience?  What individuals/group of individuals is/are intended to receive the message?
  • Is the media having the desired affect on the targeted audience?  Are the logical/emotional/ethical appeals working?  Is the audience being persuaded to buy what the media/advertisers are selling?  If yes, why?  If not, why not?
  • If the desired message comes across effectively, might there be any consequences for the receivers?  For society as a whole?