I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The Struggle for Self: Oppression's Effect on Identity 11th Grade

As much as we like to think we forge our own identities, much of who we are is determined by outside forces. Oppression is a powerful force in shaping the identities in Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and in her poems “When I Think About Myself” and “Harlem Hopscotch”. The exploitation, discrimination and violence faced by African-Americans in the mid-20th century cause Angelou’s characters to have complex relationships with their identities. Beginning in childhood, racism severs the characters from their black identities and limits their ability to overcome the dissatisfaction that stems from their place in society. Thoughts become the characters’ main mode of expressing their anger towards racism. Community has the ability to rebuild the characters’ relationships with their race, but, ultimately, self-acceptance becomes their greatest tool in resisting oppression. Angelou explores the effects of oppression on identity through the lens of the African American experience.

Depictions of childhood illustrate the role of racism in shaping identity. Angelou uses childlike motifs and structure to convey how racism becomes ingrained in the minds of black children. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Marguerite’s...

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