Notes on I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Themes

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Topic Tracking: Self Esteem


Self Esteem 1: As a young girl, Marguerite has no self-pride. She longs to be someone else, believes she is ugly, and can almost convince herself that she is actually white instead of black

Chapter 5

Self Esteem 2: This may be the first time Marguerite sees someone preserving their own self-pride and dignity, despite what other people do to them. She assumes her grandmother is being mocked, but Momma shows her that no one can be mocked if they will not allow themselves to be. Marguerite remembers this lesson later when dealing with white people who try to belittle her.

Chapter 9

Self Esteem 3: Marguerite is at first proud to have such a handsome, charismatic father. But soon she begins to feel uncomfortable, because she doesn't think she belongs to him: she is too ugly and strange. His easy manner and good looks intimidate her, and she cannot stand to feel foolish because of his jokes.

Chapter 13

Self Esteem 4: Maya believes that the rape, and Mr. Freeman's death, are her fault-first, because she liked when he held her, and then because she lied about how many times he had touched her in court. She thinks of herself as a bad girl, so bad that she has to stop talking so that she won't make things worse for everyone around her. This disturbs and angers her family, who doesn't know what is happening, and makes it more difficult for her to understand that she is not actually bad.

Chapter 16

Self Esteem 5: Maya's sense of self-worth is still a little shaky-she thinks Mrs. Cullinan might be making fun of her because she knows about Mr. Freeman (Maya still thinks his death is her fault.) But when her mistress calls her Mary, Maya suddenly understands what she will and will not accept. She gets herself fired, not caring about the consequences, rather than be called a name other than her own.

Chapter 23

Self Esteem 6: Maya feels very proud of herself for graduating, even though the white speaker at the ceremony suggests that she and her class will never be what they really want to be. She understands that this attitude is not a reflection of her-it is racism, pure and simple. When they sing "Lift Ev'ry Voice," she sees that her people have not given up hope, and that in itself gives her hope. Her self-esteem is not shaken by the white speaker; it is now grounded in her own achievements.

Chapter 25

Self Esteem 7: Though Maya will miss Bailey for the month they are separated, she is becoming more independent. She no longer needs him to defend her from insults. She now has books, which are a consistent source of joy and education. She has found something she really loves-reading-and it has given her more of an identity.

Chapter 28

Self Esteem 8: Maya is at first afraid that everyone will laugh at her body when she dances, but when she sees that no one notices her, she is able to forget her self-consciousness and learn to do something she really enjoys and is good at.

Chapter 30

Self Esteem 9: Alone on the mountainside, Maya realizes she can accomplish even the most frightening thing if she puts her mind to it. She is never the same afterward: she has a new confidence that sets her apart from most people her age. She has faith in herself.

Chapter 32

Self Esteem 10: In the junkyard, Maya learns to take care of herself, and she begins to understand that people of all races, and all personality types, can be friends. The kids accept her without questioning her. This helps her to feel less alone because of her own race, and makes her feel like a normal human being, rather than an unwanted, ugly black girl who doesn't belong.

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