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Key Facts

Key Facts

full title  · I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

author  · Maya Angelou

type of work  · Autobiographical novel

genre  · Autobiography

language  · English

time and place written  · New York City, late 1960s

date of first publication  · 1969

publisher  · Random House

narrator  · Maya Angelou

point of view  · Maya Angelou speaks in the first person as she recounts her childhood. She writes both from a child’s point of view and from her perspective as an adult.

tone  · Personal, comical, woeful, and philosophical

tense  · Past

setting (time)  · 1930s–1950s

setting (place)  · Stamps, Arkansas; St. Louis, Missouri; Oakland, California; San Francisco, California

protagonist  · Maya Angelou

major conflict  · Coming-of-age as a southern black girl, confronting racism, sexism, violence, and loneliness

rising action  · Maya’s parents divorce; Maya and Bailey are sent to Stamps; Maya and Bailey move in with their mother in St. Louis; Maya is raped; Maya and Bailey return to Stamps; Bailey witnesses a victim of lynching; Maya and Bailey move to San Francisco to live with Vivian; Maya spends the summer with her father

climax  · Maya runs away from her father, displaying her first true act of self-reliance and independence after a lifelong struggle with feelings of inferiority and displacement; here, she displaces herself intentionally, leading to important lessons she learns about humanity while in the junkyard community

falling action  · Maya lives for a month in the junkyard with a group of homeless teenagers; she becomes San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor; she becomes pregnant; she graduates high school; she gives birth to a son and gains confidence

themes  · Racism and segregation; debilitating displacement; resistance

motifs  · Strong black women; literature; naming

symbols  · The Store; Maya’s Easter dress

foreshadowing  · The opening scene in the church foreshadows the struggles Maya will have to overcome in her life; when she cannot recite the poem and flees the church while crying and peeing, Angelou notes her fear of the people laughing at her and her sense of displacement and inferiority even among other blacks; she also leaves the church laughing, however, which foreshadows her ultimate success

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