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The Importance of Overcoming Challenges in Caged Bird and Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

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A bird resides in a cage. In ‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou, the bird is restricted from any sort of freedom, and its feet are tied to constrict movement. However, the caged bird is relentless in its pursuit to sing of freedom. The obvious joy that the free bird takes in flying through the sky is made quite clear. In this case, this idea of freedom represents Angelou. In a society where African Americans are not treated as equals, where individuality and self-expression is reserved to upper class people, where making ends meet systematically excludes underprivileged minorities, Angelou points to the “escape” of reality where the bird can fly even when the world feels like it’s crashing down. Angelou is a strong example of perseverance and resilience, of which she alludes to in “Still I Rise.” She reveals the importance of overcoming challenges and being strong-willed against all odds.

In “Still I Rise”, Angelou discusses the importance of overcoming challenges and clinging on to hope that she may one day overcome injustice and prejudice. She also explores empowerment in which she must trust herself to propel herself in life. From the perspective of the oppressed, Angelou aims to combat the oppressor by reiterating the theme of individuality and empowerment. In stanza 6 Angelou writes, “you may shoot me with your words/ You may cut me with your eyes/ You may kill me with your hatefulness/ But still, like air, I’ll rise” (Angelou). Angelou comes off as thick-skinned and evokes such emotion through her writing. Her resilient behavior is revealed through her diction choice. She describes the effect of eyes cutting through to her like paper which paints an unpleasant image. I think she used the word ‘cut’ strategically to show that you can judge her through your eyes and try to cut her humanity, but she will still not fold. Words, like cuts, often form scars, but she is defiant in human nature to give up. Although these scars last, it doesn’t affect her quest towards her life. Angelou paints an image of people judging her, and she feels as though they see right through her. In stanza 4, she goes on to say, “Did you want to see me broken?/ Bowed head and lowered eyes?/ Shoulders falling down like teardrops/ Weakened by my soulful cries”. Teardrops flow when we cry, and she references to this to show how hate and prejudice evoked powerful emotions in her. She portrays that although people want her to fail, she will withstand all her hate. She also implies that a part of herself used to be broken, and that people wanted to tear her down since an early age. This speaks to the sense of pride she has that she won’t let outside noise dictate her feelings. Another quote that I would like to highlight is, “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear/ I rise/ Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear/ I rise”. The use of repetition here and throughout the poem is so interesting to me. She continues to paint this image of fear and distress but implores the public that despite these various hardships, she came out on top. “Nights of terror and fear” implies that at some point she went through many mental battles, but she chose to pick herself up.

Throughout the poem we get the sense of her overall defiant tone and this is made clear through the use of rhetorical questions. In stanza 2, she opens up with “does my sassiness upset you?”, followed up by, “does my haughtiness offend you?” in stanza 5 (Angelou). This juxtaposition adds real effect to the overall intent of the poem, suggesting that Angelou wants to envision herself as the oppressor. In a way, it’s baiting us readers to see how ridiculous such accusations can sound like, and it opens up a discussion towards individuality. Her self-confidence can be misconstrued as arrogance, but really it’s her oppressors that share that arrogant mindset.

In “Caged Bird”, Angelou challenges the idea of bottling up emotions and living in a metaphorical cage of society by describing the exuberance of a joyous bird escaping that locked up mentality. In the first stanza, Angelou describes the “free” bird who “leaps… and dares to claim the sky”. That leap of faith is a representation of those overcoming challenges. The reality of this is directly challenged in the next stanza by the “caged” bird whose “wings are clipped and/his feet are tied”. Angelou’s characterization of the free bird and caged bird is a larger metaphor for herself. She feels as though society creates these barriers and conditions people to feel a certain way. With regards to oppression, her coming out moment is her visible success and her transparency to talk about such issues. Angelou challenges society’s notions and uses her life experiences to empower black men and women across the world.

In her biography article, Marcia Ann Gillespie dives deep into Maya Angelou’s life, referring to her early childhood and career accomplishments. She analyzed the significance of her work and how she resonated with it. Gillespie describes Angelou’s first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in detail by providing some context to her early life and the hardships she faced of being raped as a child. The trauma from going through that allows readers to see why her work is so emotionally provoking and powerful. Angelou describes her life with such precise detail in her literature and is so candid so that people could have learning moments. From the point of view of the author, Angelou is a very knowledgeable character and is charismatic, especially in the moments that they met with each other. Despite having a real relationship with Angelou, the author claims that “anyone who reads her memoirs and her poetry, who hears her speak in an auditorium or on a television show, knows who she is as well”. Basically, if you have read her work, you are exploring aspects of her life like a puzzle, and trying to connect with her.

The author revealed various things that Angelou valued, starting from spirit to sensuality. Spirit is what she looked to in times of distress to empower her and fill her up. From a religious perspective, Angelou believed that she was a gift from God. Through that spirituality, Gillespie recalls that she thought grace entered her life. Spirituality and sensuality are connected on a deeper level. Sensuality is essentially the idea of being present in the moment. It’s what makes humans humans. Everyone has different quirks that make them who they are. Sensuality is also fulfilled when you sit back and tell stories and engage with other people. In “Still I Rise”, for example, Angelou asserts herself as a broken, yet powerful person. Through the lens of White America and civil rights rhetorics, black people like her had it rough. Despite these hardships and experiences, Angelou was comfortable in her own skin and made it clear that oppression would not be her downfall. Angelou humanizes herself as she tells her story in the hopes that young people could have a stepping stone for hope.

Especially in tumultuous times, Angelou explains the value in friendships in which she claims that bonds help assert her strength. Healing is a big value in her life because she went through so much, stemming from rape as a child to everyday racism and judgment, feeling like an outcast, or just growing up Black in America. She had to heal emotionally and physically to be who she wanted to be. Her philosophy on giving is quite interesting: “We make a terrible mistake if we think we are doing service for others. That is a mistake. We do service for ourselves”. She finds the normalcy of being kind because you picture yourself from the other person’s perspective. Having a strong family bond is undeniably one of Angelou’s biggest values. In a place where she didn’t have much friends, her family had consistently been her biggest support system.

To conclude the essay, through her works of “Caged Bird” and “Still I Rise”, Angelou portrays empowerment and the call for hope in this world. Through diction and imagery, she creates a narrative that we, as a people, should break out of society’s shells and rise up against possible scrutiny. In a society where African Americans are not treated as equals, where individuality and self-expression is reserved to upper class people, where making ends meet systematically excludes underprivileged minorities, Angelou points to the “escape” of reality. She is a strong example of perseverance and resilience, of which she alludes to in “Still I Rise”. Angelou reveals the importance of overcoming challenges and clinging on to that hope. 

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The Importance Of Overcoming Challenges In Caged Bird And Still I Rise By Maya Angelou. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-importance-of-overcoming-challenges-in-caged-bird-and-still-i-rise-by-maya-angelou/
“The Importance Of Overcoming Challenges In Caged Bird And Still I Rise By Maya Angelou.” GradesFixer, 18 Mar. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-importance-of-overcoming-challenges-in-caged-bird-and-still-i-rise-by-maya-angelou/
The Importance Of Overcoming Challenges In Caged Bird And Still I Rise By Maya Angelou. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-importance-of-overcoming-challenges-in-caged-bird-and-still-i-rise-by-maya-angelou/> [Accessed 20 Oct. 2021].
The Importance Of Overcoming Challenges In Caged Bird And Still I Rise By Maya Angelou [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Mar 18 [cited 2021 Oct 20]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-importance-of-overcoming-challenges-in-caged-bird-and-still-i-rise-by-maya-angelou/
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