I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou’s novel is a classic tale of growing up black in the American South in the 1930s and 40s. Even though Marguerite’s and her brother Bailey’s childhood and early youth are probably far from typical for the average black family of that time, the book nonetheless can be read as a parable of what it meant and still means to be a black person in an overwhelmingly white society. The story is told from a “black” point of view and is thus a more “politically correct” representation of race relationship and prejudice than Harper Lee’s equally famous To Kill a Mockingbird.
The two children are moved back and forth between their parents and their grandmother “Momma,” between St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the rural Southern town of Stamps, Arkansas, where they spend the bulk of their childhood. As the owner of a small shop their grandmother is rather well-off for a rural black woman. The children consequently don’t suffer from any economic hardships – not even during the worst depression years. Still, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings is no story about an easy coming-of-age: Maya is permanently puzzled by the adult world. Her grandmother is extremely religious and strict, the children “should be seen but not heard,” (p. 34) and she is deeply worried about their relationship to their parents. Worse still, she is raped by her mother’s boyfriend while living with her in St. Louis and refuses to talk to anyone but her brother for over a year after the trial. Moreover, she often encounters “white” prejudice, rejection or indifference, when she is working for a white woman or tries to get treatment from a white dentist.
The book thus explores a wide range of timeless topics: child abuse, race relations and a lot of important general issues of adolescence such as awakening sexuality, tension between the children and their parents and friendship. Angelou basically tells us the story of her search for her place in the world – in warm and touching prose that makes it possible to identify with her problems, needs and dreams. This personal appeal and the fact that the novel touches a lot of common “black” issues make its ideal for use in the literature classroom – together with To Kill a Mockingbird (even though in a way it directs your reading of I Know.
Dreams of Escape in The Glass Menagerie
Dreams of Escape in The Glass Menagerie
“Anyone can handle a crisis, but day-to-day living is the most trying aspect of life” (Jackson 19). This is especially true in the drama The Glass Menagerie. None of the characters in this tale is willing to or capable of living in the present. Everyday life becomes so mindless and oppressive that each character’s dreams and fantasies become more important than reality itself. Through their dreams, Amanda, Tom, Laura, and Jim attempt to transcend reality in order to escape the monotony of life.
Having lost her husband and being left alone to raise her two children Tom and Laura, Amanda finds herself in a very undesirable situation. This situation is only made worse through Amanda’s disappointment in her children, whom she considers lost. She believes her son to be unrealistic, as he is constantly dreaming about becoming a respected poet rather than committing to a steady job. As a result, Amanda is very confused and uncertain about her and her children’s future. Worse still, the fact that Laura is crippled, which she refuses to acknowledge however, worries her even more, insofar as she tries to arrange everything for her lest she will live paralyzed in the threatening world. Aware of the reality, she enrolls her in a secretarial course in the hope that she would become, if not successful in her career, at least independent in making ends meet. Disappointed by Laura’s inability to cope with the studies in the business school, Amanda cannot but desperately find her a reliable husband who can provide material and emotional…
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…gni. “The Southern Gentlewoman.” Modern Critical Interpretations Tennessee Williams The Glass Menagerie. ed. Harold Bloom. NY: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.
Jackson, Esther Merle. The Broken World of Tennessee Williams. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965.
Levy, Eric P. “‘Through Soundproof Glass’: The Prison of Self Consciousness in The Glass Menagerie.” Modern Drama, 36. December 1993. 529-537.
Parker, R.B., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Glass Menagerie. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice, 1983.
Thompson, Judith J. Tennessee Williams’ Plays: Memory, Myth, and Symbol. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. Masterpieces of the Drama. Ed. Alexander W. Allison, Arthus J. Carr, Arthur M. Eastman. 5th ed. NY: Macmillan, 1986.