favourite passages from i know why the caged bird sings [maya angelou].

i underlined so many passages while reading i know why the caged bird sings that i decided to copy them all into one post. you’ll find them below.

if growing up is painful for the southern black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat [6].

in cottong-picking time the late afternoons revealed the harshness of black southern life, which in the early morning had been softened by nature’s blessing of grogginess, forgetfulness and the soft lamplight [10].

of all the needs [there are none imaginary] a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable god. my pretty black brother was my kingdom come [23].

it was the same old quandary. i had always lived it. there was an army of adults, whose motives and movements i just couldn’t understand and who made no effort to understand mine [73].

i was eight, and grown [82].

there is nothing more appalling than a constantly morose child [87].

language is a man’s way of communicating with his fellow man and it is language alone which separates him from the lower animals [96].

words mean more than what is set down on paper. it takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning [96].

as i ate she began the first of what we later called ‘my lessons in living.’ she said that i must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. that some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors. she encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit. that in those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations [98].

the white kids were going to have a chance to become galileos and madame curies and edisons and gauguins, and our boys [the girls weren’t even in on it] would try to be jesse owenses and joe louises [176].

we were maids and farmers, handymen and washerwomen, and anything higher that we aspired to was farcical and presumptuous [177-8].

if we were a people much given to revealing secrets, we might raise monuments and sacrifice to the memories of our poets, but slavery cured us of that weakness. it may be enough, however, to have it said that we survive in exact relationship to the dedication of our poets… [182].

my tears were not for bailey or mother or even myself but for the helplessness of mortals who live on the sufferance of life. in order to avoid this bitter end, we would all have to be born again, and born with the knowledge of alternatives. even then? [256-7]

his room smelled of cooked grease, lysol and age, but his face believed the freshness of his words, and i had no heart nor art to drag him back to the reeking reality of our life and times [258-9].

without willing it, i had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware. and the worst part of my awareness was that i didn’t know what i was aware of [267].

to be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision [267].

until recently each generation found it more expedient to plead guilty to the charge of being young and ignorant, easier to take the punishment meted out by the older generation [which had itself confessed to the same crime short years before]. the command to grow up at once was more bearable than the faceless horror of wavering purpose, which was youth [267-8].

did i leave out any of your favourite passages?


3 thoughts on “favourite passages from i know why the caged bird sings [maya angelou].

    1. veena says:

      I know my interpretations of each passage, but I think what I take away from each will be different from what others take away. And if I read it today, 4 years after posting this and 25 years after reading it the first time, I’ll likely have different interpretations again. That’s the beauty of good literature, isn’t it? It gives us as the reader the opportunity to take what we need from it and asks nothing in return.

      (I’m not sure if that’s what you were looking for, but I hope it helps)

      Have a wonderful day!


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