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Quest for Self-Determination in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Lakota Woman

Quest for Self-Determination in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Lakota Woman

During their growing up years, children struggle to find their personal place in society. It is difficult for children to find their place when they are given numerous advantages, but when a child is oppressed by their parents or grandparents, males in their life, and the dominant culture, the road to achieving self-identity is fraught with enormous obstacles to overcome. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Mary Crow Dog’s Lakota Woman depict the two women’s “triumph over formidable social obstacles and [their] struggle to achieve a sense of identity and self-acceptance” (Draper 1).

Both women grew up in segregated societies: Mary Crow Dog on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and Maya Angelou in the black community of Stamps, Arkansas. As is common with minority children, they spent most of their childhood living with their grandparents. Both women also experienced oppression by their parents and grandparents, who are the first contact with other people that children have. Even though Mary’s mother and grandmother spoke the Lakota language, they refused to teach it to Mary. They told her that “speaking Indian would only hold you back, turn you the wrong way” (Crow Dog 22). They wanted Mary to have a “white man’s education” (Crow Dog 22).

In contrast, Maya was denied a white man’s education, not only by the dominant culture but also by her grandmother. Maya attended the Lafayette County Training School, which was the school for blacks. In addition, Maya’s grandmother forbade her from reading books by white authors. This restriction is exemplified in the following passage:


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…e barriers blocking their chosen path and achieve the power to lead their lives as they see fit.

Works Cited

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam, 1993.

Crow Dog, Mary. Lakota Woman. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.

Draper, James P., ed., et al. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 77. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993.

Mahtowin, “Mary Crow Dog: Real Life Hero.” New Directions for Women, Vol. 21, No.2, March-April, 1992, p. 28.

Narins, Brigham, and Deborah A. Stanley, eds., et al. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 93. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1996.

O’Neale, Sondra. “Reconstruction of the Composite Self: New Images of Black Women in Maya Angelou’s Continuing Autobiography.” Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984, pp. 25-37.

A Comparison of Bless Me Ultima and The House on Mango Street

Exploring Syncretism in Bless Me Ultima and The House on Mango Street

Syncretism is the fine line between Christianity and Native American Religions because it is the ambivalent, simultaneous attraction of choice and identification to the influences of two or more religious belief systems. Syncretism is most common among minority groups such as Hispanics. The definition applied to their unique position of culture is brought about by the Native American and Spanish ancestry. Ambivalence is shown even by the word Hispanic, which is an “umbrella” term. The novels, Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima(1972) and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street(1984) explore syncretism and how it enhances and exemplifies the issue of ambivalent behavior in regards to the combined use of Native and Christian religions.

In Bless Me Ultima and The House on Mango Street, syncretism is displayed through the actions of both novels to show that syncretism is the “bridge” of ambivalence. Syncretism in context of Anaya and Cisneros’ novels, merge Christianity and Native American pagan religions to form the syncretic nature of ambivalent Hispanic Americans. There are several main points in each text that exhibit the issue of syncretism. These points or issues include the “Christ-like” comparison, the witchcraft comparison, and the comparison of pagan religions of superstition and sorcery. The concept of good and evil revealed in the two Hispanic novels through the mixture of Christianity and Native religions is a type of syncretism created by folk Catholicism. According to Ellwin Stoddard’s Mexican Americans, the concept of folk Catholicism, “is driven on the idea that the formal sphere of the Catholic church is blended with the Native …

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…on, folk Catholicism. In consequence, Hispanics have in a sense walked a fine line of ambivalence in relation to syncretic religious practices.

Works Cited

Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me Ultima. New York: Warner Books, 2002.

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Random House, 2006.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. “Rudolfo Anaya” Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Penguin Dictionary of Religions, ed. John R. Hiumells. 2004.

Stoddard, Ellwin R. Mexican Americans. New York: Random House, 1973.

The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd.ed., v.1. “The History of the Miraculous Apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 1531.Ed. Paul Lauter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Wiget, Andrew O., “Native American Oral Narrative” in The Heath Anthology of American Literature 3rd ed., v.1. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 24-27.

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