Maya Angelou’s greatest literary contribution is her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a three year old Angelou travels from California to Arkansas. When they arrive, they are met by their grandmother Annie, who is a hard working, independent, God-fearing woman. Grandma Annie owned The Store which was the center of the black community. The family also included Maya’s Uncle Willie who was partially paralyzed. Uncle Willie was strong and his mother was always sure to tell people that he was not born paralyzed. Soon after relocating, Maya and Bailey begin calling their grandmother “Momma” and they think of Uncle Willie as a surrogate father. .
In Stamps, Angelou learned about the realities of racism. In one instance, the young white girls who lived on the property came into the front of The Store and proceeded to mock and imitate Momma. Momma does not react but Maya is enraged and burst into tears while watching the scene. However, when she returns to The Store, Maya realizes something about Momma. She realizes that Momma is a survivor. Later, when Momma decides to protect a black man from a lynch mob she exemplifies bravery. From Momma, Maya learned a good work ethic and patience.
Maya is then sent to live with her mother in St. Louis. Her father comes to transport her. In St. Louis, Angelou is introduced to the Baxter side of her family. Her mother Vivian Baxter, an outgoing beauty who wears red lipstick. One morning a young Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. Because she is terrified Maya remains silent about the attack. When she reveals what has happened, her Mr. Freeman is arrested. After the trial, Mr. Freeman is beat to death. Maya believes that her voice caused a man’s death. As a result, Maya refuses to speak to anyone other than her brother Bailey. Maya’s silence leads to many changes in her life. She and Bailey are sent back to Stamps, Arkansas to live with Momma and Uncle Willie.
However as time goes on and fearing for her grand children’s well being in the rural south, Momma makes arrangements for the children to move to California to be with their mother. For the first time, Maya attends an integrated school. Additionally, Maya studies dance and drama at the California Labor School. However, she eventually get’s bored by school. Maya sets out to get a job as a street car conductor and becomes the first black conductor in San Francisco. Maya soon learns she and soon gives birth to a son. At the conclusion of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou is coming to terms with her new role as a young mother. In the closing scene, Angelou learns her first motherly lesson as she shares her bed with her son.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings finds Angelou moving from place to place. Angelou sets out to exemplify the feelings of loneliness and confinement that she feels as a child. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is a story about a girl coming into her own and learning what it means to be a black woman in America. The book exceeds expectations and transcends racial and gender lines.