I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

How does the reader differentiate between young Maya and old Maya

How does the reader distinguish between the child's voice and the woman's voice in the novel? What cues does the author give to distinguish between the two voices?

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First Person (Central Narrator)

Our trusty narrator is Marguerite Johnson, also known as Maya. No one's surprised—this is an autobiography, after all.

Most of the narrative is written from the perspective of young Maya. And since she begins telling her story at the age of three (and is a very imaginative child), she's not the most reliable narrator. She often forces us to read between the lines: think Bailey Jr. lying to her about Mr. Freeman not begin able to kill him, Momma sending the kids to San Francisco, and Mr. Freeman "mysteriously" turning up dead. Oh, and she also just makes things up, like that whole Momma vs. Dentist Lincoln scenario.

Having said that, adult Angelou gets in a word or two once in a while, too. And there's a big difference between this woman and young Maya. Adult Maya reflects back on her life, and is affected by the experiences that she's had as an adult:

Recently a white woman from Texas, who would quickly describe herself as a liberal, asked me about my hometown. When I told her that in Stamps my grandmother had owned the only Negro general merchandise store since the turn of the century, she exclaimed, "Why you were a debutante." Ridiculous and even ludicrous. (16.1)

Style and voice aside, this is something young Maya couldn't have told us since, well, it hadn't happened to her. So we're glad we have adult Maya to guide us along.

The pairing of adult Angelou and child Maya makes for an interesting ride. It allows us to experience the world as Maya felt it when she was young without losing the deep ruminations of a wise and experienced adult.