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Book Report

I. Character: In Maya Angelou's autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", her paternal grandmother, "Momma", was her guardian through most of her childhood. Momma, or Annie Henderson, was an enduring woman. Not only was she the only store owner in the black part of Stamps, Arkansas, she was a widowed woman who supported her own crippled son and the two children of her other son. As Maya wrote: "People spoke of Mamma as a good-looking woman... I saw only her power and strength" (38) She faced racism passively, showing respect to even the crudest of the "powhitetrash" who taunted her. Though assertive and strong in most aspects, as a matter of survival she never picked fights when it came to race or racism. She believed that white people couldn't be spoken to without putting one's life in jeopardy. She raised her grandchildren with the Christian values and morals she so strongly believed in herself. While she was strict with them, she loved Maya and her brother Baily, Jr. and she always put their needs before her own wants.

II. Setting: The Revival that Maya Angelou recalled in her novel showed how animated the religious events of the South could be. This gathering of members from all of the black churches in the region took place in a large, cloth tent in the middle of a feild. Angelou comments "To small children, though, the idea of praising God in a tent was confusing, to say the least. It seemed somehow blasphemous" (103). The fairlike feeling of the setting was complimented by the jubilant actions of the guest. The sermon that night spoke of the selflessness of charity, and gave them all assurance that their hard lives would lead them to acceptance into heaven. Infused with the hope and spirit of the preachings, song broke out and here and there women were fainting with excitement. "The emotional release was contagious. Little screams burst around the room like Fourth of July firecrackers" (108). As is the custom with revivals, sinners were offered salvation; but, this event was unique because of the diversity of this congregation. In was was a "revolutionary action", sinners were allowed to choose freely what church they wished to join, not limited to the church the preacher belonged to. Before the night's end, over twenty people were converted. All were left with the same inspiration. As Maya Angelou put it "They basked in the righteousness of the poor and the exclusiveness of the downtrodden. Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation... and mostly-mostly-let them have their whiteness. It was better to be meek and lowly, spat upon and abused for this little time than to spend eternity frying in the fires of hell" (110). These people who were hardened by the labor and toil their daily lives contained had their self-worth assured that night. They celebrated, sang, and asked "How long, oh God? How long?" (111).

III. Plot: Angelou fittingly recalls the events of her past as frankly as a child would put it. She describes the faults of the world around her and the faults she saw in herself unapolegetically. She writes about the sexual abuse she encountered at age eight with a blunt and what may be perceived innocent manner. She is straightforward in pointing out the injustice of the racism that was still strong in the South. She holds nothing back when it comes to her confusion with sexuality. And through it all her growing understanding of God, parent and child relationships, discrimination, and self-discovery give us insight into the true mind of the child Maya Angelou once was.

IV. Aphorism: Maya Angelou's strong grandmother told a downtrodden, widowed visitor "He never gives us more than we can bear" (132). Angelou's childhood was rougher than many ever face in their entire lifetime. Tiny and alone, she and her brother were sent along on train to the small, still racist town of Stamps, Arkansas. Growing up with a strong, tough grandmother and a crippled uncle, they witness injustices of growing up poor and black. When their father showed up and took the eight year old and her brother to live with their mother in St. Louis, she was introduced to Mr. Freeman, who molested and raped her. It was in San Fransisco that she became confused with sexuality, and ended up pregnant at sixteen. After all of this, look at Dr. Maya Angelou now. Named as one of the greatest contemporary poets, she even recited an original work at the 1993 Presidential Inauguration of Bill Clinton, becoming only the second poet to do so in the history of the United States. While this autobiography shows none of this bright future, it leaves us with sixteen year old Maya discovering she has it in her to care for her newborn boy. Her mother tells her "See, you don't have to think about doing the right thing. If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking" (246). Few have gone through as much as Angelou has, and few have it in them to survive it all.