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Kevin Asirvadam
Mrs. Kline
English II
10 November 2015

Caged Bird Analysis


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a very famous poem by 20th century poet Maya
Angelou, which discusses the differences in behavior and mentality between a free bird and a
bird that is confined in a cage. The poem uses several different literary devices including
personification, rhyme, and meter, but by far the most important device in the poem is
symbolism. Every object in the poem is a symbol for something, and the symbols are what give
the poem its meaning and its message. The most common interpretation of the poem is a social
commentary on the distinct differences between socioeconomic classes in our culture, which is
inspired by the civil unrest, injustice, and uprisings that Angelou experienced during her lifetime.
This paper aims to explain how the literary devices used in the poem assist Angelou in delivering
her message in effective ways.
The first devices to look at are the structural ones: rhyme, meter, stanzas, length, etc. The
rhyming and the stanzas synergize quite well to draw the readers attention back to the main
focus of the poem, and they do this because there is only one stanza that repeats, and that stanza
has more rhymes than any of the other stanzas. There are five rhyming lines in this stanza, with
fearful trill/ but longed for still/ on the distant hill/ and his tune is heard/ for the caged bird,
versus only two or zero rhyming lines in any of the other stanzas, cage/rage, breeze/trees,
dreams/scream. This rhyme scheme, combined with the fact that it is the only repeating stanza,

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very effectively causes the stanza to stand out and reinforce its ideas. The meter in the poem
produces an almost musical effect when reading the poem aloud, which further increases its
ability to penetrate the readers mind. Overall, the structure of the poem does not contribute very
much to the actual message, but it does help attract the readers attention and divert it to where it
is most important.
The actual meaning of the poem is contained in the symbols within, the two birds and
their actions. The free bird symbolizes a free human with a high quality lifestyle. When the free
bird leaps on the back of the wind, it indicates the tendency of people with good lives to often
take huge risks eagerly, because leaping on the back of the wind will probably cause you to fall,
but there is always the chance that it will make you fly. Next, the free bird floats downstream
till the current ends, showing that people will take advantage of nature, letting it carry them,
until natures power is all used up and they are stuck in the middle of the stream. When the free
bird dares to claim the sky, and names the sky his own, it is an indicator of people thinking
they own everything and that the whole world must bend to their will. The free bird thinking of
another breeze, represents that people who have things always want more, and are never fully
satisfied. This goes hand in hand with the free bird thinking of trade winds soft through the
sighing trees and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn, to show that even though
wealthy people are often unsatisfied, they have choices and therefore have more freedom to be
picky. The overall theme of the free bird is dissatisfaction and arrogance.
The caged bird represents a human who is oppressed and suffering, without the ability to
do anything about it. That the caged bird can seldom see through his bars of rage, indicates the
oppressors ability to shut in the oppressed from what is outside the oppression. When the caged
bird stands on the grave of dreams, it is implied that any hopes and dreams the oppressed
might have had have been lost, buried under the hopelessness of their situation. However, when

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the caged bird opens his throat to sing, because his wings are clipped and his feet are tied, it
shows that despite all of the things that have happened to someone, even if their dreams are
crushed and they are physically unable to do anything, they will always have their inner voice,
their own personality and own self. When the caged bird sings with fearful trill of things
unknown but longed for still, it really shows how much the oppressed are suffering, because
even though they dont know what they are singing about, it must be better than the current
situation that they are in, because nothing could be as bad as that. His tune is heard on the
distant hill, shows that people who live in nowhere near alike conditions or places can hear the
plight of those suffering if they sing of freedom, because freedom is one of the most powerful
motivators in all of human history. The caged birds theme is pain and helplessness, but still with
a little spark of hope that there will someday be a chance of freedom.
Although it is clear that the two birds symbolize two people in vastly different situations,
it is not clear what groups they specifically belong to; the free and caged birds could represent
anything from abusive relationships (romantic or familial) to two sides of a single person.
Angelou, having been a black woman during the 1960s civil rights movements, most likely
wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a description of institutionalized racism in the United
States, but there are still other interpretations. Any form of legal segregation or persecution,
regardless of on what grounds, as well as someone having a mental illness such as bipolar
disorder having distinct different states of interaction with the world, could be represented by the
two birds. In the end, though, the message of relative status affecting our behaviors and minds
still holds through all of the possible interpretations.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a poem with a very powerful, very important
message that can be applied to a vast array of different situations. It was inspired by times of
hardship, and it explains some of the human interactions that come about as a result of social

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hierarchies. The poem has an effectively captivating structure, the symbols are complex enough
to carry a lot of meaning but still simple enough for anyone to understand, and there are multiple
possible interpretations of it. All of these factors come together to make a great poem that will
continue to be one of the most well-known poems out there for years to come.