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 Black Americans; she also leaves the church laughing, however, which foreshadows her ultimate success