Quotes from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I know why the caged bird sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1928–2014) is a 1969 autobiography by the beloved writer and poet covering her upbringing and youth. Following is a selection of quotes from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the brutally honest and inspiring autobiography covering Angelou’s early life.

The book is the first in a seven-volume series. It delves into Angelou’s journey, one in which she experiences and overcomes racism and trauma and develops the strength of character and a love of literature.

The book starts with her as a three-year-old being sent to Stamos, Arkansas, to live with their grandmother along with her older brother. By the end of the book, Angelou is sixteen years old and becomes a mother.

Throughout the course of the book, Maya overcomes racism and transforms into an unbreakable woman as she is able to effectively respond to the ignorance of prejudice.

Angelou created her autobiography as a way to explore identity, rape, literacy, and racism. She also gives readers a new perspective about the lives of women in a society that is male-dominated, earning her praise as “a symbolic character for every black girl growing up in America.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was nominated for a National Book Award in 1970. In addition, it has remained on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. The book has made its debut in high school and university classrooms, though some institutions and libraries have banned Caged Bird due to its explicit depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality.

Though it has stirred some controversy, the book continues to be commended for having created new literary avenues for the American memoir. 

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“Life is going to give you just what you put in it. Put your whole heart in everything you do, and pray, then you can wait.”

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“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

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“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” 

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“Anything that works against you can also work for you once you understand the Principle of Reverse.” 

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“Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

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“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still, 
and his tune is heard on the distant hill, 
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

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“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. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflict than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity.” 

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I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou on Amazon*
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“I believe most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.” 

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“If you’re for the right thing, you do it without thinking.” 

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“Ritie, don’t worry ’cause you ain’t pretty. Plenty pretty women I seen digging ditches or worse. You smart. I swear to God, I rather you have a good mind than a cute behind.” 

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“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.

The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.” 

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“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. I knew I knew very little, but I was certain that the things I had yet to learn wouldn’t be taught to me at George Washington High School. ” 

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“The quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination, as are intelligence and necessity when unblunted by formal education. ” 

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“At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.” 

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“She comprehended the perversity of life, that in the struggle lies the joy.” 

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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou Quotes to Live By

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“A story went the rounds about a San Franciscan white matron who refused to sit beside a Negro civilian on the streetcar, even after he made room for her on the seat. Her explanation was that she would not sit beside a draft dodger who was a Negro as well. She added that the least he could do was fight for his country the way her son was fighting on Iwo Jima. The story said that the man pulled his body away from the window to show an armless sleeve. He said quietly and with great dignity, “Then ask your son to look around for my arm, which I left over there.” 

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“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. It is an unnecessary insult.” 

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“Women been gittin’ pregnant ever since Eve ate that apple.”

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“The world had taken a deep breath and was having doubts about continuing to revolve.”

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“When things were very bad his soul just crawled behind his heart and curled up and went to sleep.” 

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“I had given up some youth for knowledge, but my gain was more valuable than the loss.” 

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“The intensity with which young people live demands that they ‘blank out’ as often as possible.” 

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Maya Angelou

10 Fascinating Facts About Maya Angelou

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Skyler Isabella Gomez is a 2019 SUNY New Paltz graduate with a degree in Public Relations and a minor in Black Studies. Her passions include connecting more with her Latin roots by researching and writing about legendary Latina authors.

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