22 Jun 2009

Sample Essay: Racism In

Maya Angelou has a life full of insults heaped on her by racist whites. She had a childhoodwhich was marred and scarred by incidences of racism, and later on in life she was pursued bythe many headed hydra of racism too. Her childhood was full of insults from angry racist whites.As a child Maya and her brother ripped the stuffing out the white doll her mother had sent her.

This shows the extreme anger and disappointment that Maya Angelou had with the attitude andprejudices of the racist whites even as a child. It is only due to her brilliance and hard workthat she rose to a position of prominence and fame in this white dominated society. She roseabove petty racism to heights of emancipation unimaginable. Even later on in life she was pursued by the monster known as racism. Her family disapproved of her marriage to Tosh Angelos, a white man who she eventually divorced. Yet Maya Angelou did not let that put her down. She rose up into the sky like a beacon of light for all the world to see and admire. Maya Angelou was born to the name of Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri.

When Maya Angelou was the tender age of three her parents divorced and she had to live with her grandmother. Within a few years she was shifted back to her mother. Her mother was a dancer in a bar and taught Maya Angelou how to dance. During this portion of her life she experienced the multifarious and negative effects of segregation for herself.At the age of 16

Maya Angelou became pregnant and gave birth to a son she named Clyde. After graduation fromhigh school Maya Angelou did not go to college as she wanted to take care of her son. Duringthis period in our history it was very difficult for a black to find a job. Maya Angelou had the double disadvantage as she was black and also a woman. She managed through sheer perseverance and hard work to find a job and became the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. Maya Angelou was inspired by black jazz musicians. She had the feeling that if they could become famous then she could get fame through the same route. She got jobs as a dancer and singer and finally became an actress. Maya Angelou starred in many plays and eventually became famous. Maya Angelou also started writing plays and also wrote a play to raise money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This was an organization which supported the rights if African Americans. It was through this organization that Maya Angelou met Martin Luther king. He was very awe inspiring and wonderful person. During this time the coordinator of Southern Christian Leadership Conference left and Maya Angelou got the honor of replacing him as coordinator.

After the passage of some time Maya Angelou moved to Africa as she thought that she would find a home there because her own ancestors had come from this land. However this did not work out and she got homesick and moved back to her true home, our own great and lovely USA. Maya Angelou now became a writer. Maya Angelou has been at different times a dancer, actress, singer, author, and poet. It has been hard work for a black female to make it to the very top but Maya Angelou reached the apex of greatness. Her work too reflects her constant struggle against inclement odds.

Life’s Journey

Along the dark and dreary road,

A young girl walked

From childhood Maya has experienced the horror of racism. I Know Why the Caged Bird sings is the autobiography of Maya Angelou. After the divorce of her parents Maya Angelou and her elder brother are sent to live with their grandmother in a small town in Arkansas. She comes to hate herself for being black. The world Maya Angelou sees through her eyes at this stage isdominated by the whites. She wants to be a white too in this white dominated world. At the age of eight she again goes to live with her mother in her mother in St. Louis. Here she gets sexually abused by her mother boy friend and gets scarred for life. She even loses her voice and becomes mute. Finally when Maya Angelou becomes aware of racial prejudice and religious hypocrisy she starts getting her voice back.

Maya Angelou hates racists. She herself has experienced racism and has come to hate the evil of racism. I will not sit in a group of black friends and hear racial pejoratives against whites. I will not hear “honky.” I will not hear “Jap.” I will not hear “kike.” I will not hear “greaser.” I will not hear “dago.” I will not hear it. As soon as I hear it, I say, “Excuse me, I have to leave. Sorry.” Or if it’s in my home, I say, “You have to leave. I can’t have that. That is poison, and I know it is poison, and you’re smearing it on me. I will not have it. This shows that not even in childhood alone but even in her mature years Maya Angelou is faced by the problem of racism. When we experience something first hand we come to recognize it under any garb and understand it as soon as we see it. Racism in any way is abhorrent to Maya Angelou, be it against the whites, the Latin’s or the Japanese. She belongs to the ages. She is not just confined to the here and now but to eternity. She is not just an American. She belongs to the world in her beauty and innocence. Her message is for the whole world.  According to Maya Angelou when we talk about racism we are not just talking about acts against blacks. We are talking about vulgarities against any human being because of her — his — race. This is vulgar. That is what it is, whether it is anti-Asian, whether it is the use of racial prejudices about Jews, about Japanese, about Native Americans, about blacks, about Irish, it is stupid, because what it is really is it is poison.It poisons the spirit, the human spirit. I know there are blacks who say, “I can use the N-word because I mean it endearingly.” I don’t believe that. I believe it is vulgar and dangerous, given from any mouth to any ear. I know that if poison is in a vial which says P-O-I-S-O-N and has a skull and the cross bones, that it is poison. But if you pour the same thing into Bavarian crystal it is still poison. So I think racism is vulgar any way you cut it.This is what racism means to Maya Angelou. It is vulgarity incarnate. She does not hold with it in any sense or manner. Not even as a joke. We see that she is deeply wounded and scarred by the racists. She is not even ready to accept the N-word even endearingly. This shows a whole life spent facing the disastrous effects of rampant racism. When we look at her work like the A Christmas poem we are again faced with the response to racism. It seems all her work is largely driven by her response to racism she encountered in her life.  In this beautiful, deeply moving poem, Maya Angelou inspires us to embrace the peace and promise of Christmas, so that hope and love can once again light up our holidays and the world. Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers, look heavenward, she writes, and speak the word aloud. Peace. In Hallelujah! The Welcome Table Angelou tells us about the time she was expelled from school for being afraid to speak-this again leads us to the conclusion that her whole work and style is a counter to racism. Her mother baked a delicious maple cake to brighten her spirits. She gives us her recipe for short ribs along with a story about a job she had as a cook at a Creole restaurant (never mind that she didn’t know how to cook and had no idea what Creole food might entail).again and again in her work we come up against the deleterious effect racism has on an innocent girl. She is like a butterfly fluttering in anguish in a cruel world of racism. There was the time in London when she attended a wretched dinner party full of wretched people; but all wasn’t lost-she did experience her initial taste of a savory onion tart. A Song Flung Up to Heaven opens as Maya Angelou returns from Africa to the United States to work with Malcolm X. Malcolm X got assassinated and Maya Angelou was heart broken at this outrage flung on the world by fate. After this she tries to put her life back together but she is again jolted by the assassination of King who had previously asked her to become his coordinator in the north. Maya Angelou completely withdrew from life at this stage. She feels that she is unable to deal with this horrible event. Finally, James Baldwin forces her out of isolation and insists that she accompany him to a dinner party – where the idea for writing I

Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is born. In fact, A Song Flung Up to Heaven ends as Maya Angelou begins to write the first sentences of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.In The Heart of a Woman we again deal with Maya Angelou’s response to racism. She becomes the Northern Coordinator for Martin Luther. It is filled with Maya Angelou’s eloquent prose – her fondest dreams, deepest disappointments. It has got famous characters, from Billie Holiday to Malcolm X. As we go on reading the work of Maya Angelou we are again and again struck by the fact that her whole life is a response to racism. This is the story of most African Americans who make their way up the ladder of fame. In Even the Stars Look Lonesome Maya Angelou talks about Africa. She gives us a profile of Oprah. She shares with us the indelible lessons she has learned about rage and violence. Maya Angelou’s life is awe inspiring. As we learn about her childhood and move up the years with her to her maturity we are left breathless at the sheer beauty and tenacity of this great woman. She has learned to deal with racism and given it a fitting response. She is a model for us all. In All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes Maya goes to Ghana, where she joins a community of black Americans. Maya Angelou also explores what it means to be African-American on the mother continent. Where color no longer matters.

This work again reveals the response of Maya Angelou to racism. In a world full of cowards she is a clarion call towards bravery and conviction to the ideals of humanity.

Shadows on the wall

Noises down the hall

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

In all her poems and works we see her bravery reflected. In Diversity Makes for a Rich Tapestry written by Donna Brown Agins Maya Angelou says I speak to the black experience, but I am always talking about the human condition. From her childhood she learnt how to respond to racism. As she says in   p. 254 of Caged Bird, After a month my thinking processes had so changed that I was hardly recognizable to myself. The unquestioning acceptance of my peers had dislodged the familiar insecurity…After hunting down unbroken bottles and selling them with a white girl from Missouri, a Mexican girl from Los Angeles and a Black girl from Okalahoma, I was never again to sense myself so solidly outside the pale of the human race. The lack of criticism evidenced by our ad hoc community influenced me, and set a tone of tolerance in my life.

Maya Angelou herself says that it takes time and courage to fight racism. It doesn’t happen in a day or even a month. It takes years of devotion to your ideals and purity of thoughts to attain the level where you are able to say no to racism. She says  Now, it’s not an easy thing. And one doesn’t all of a sudden sort of blossom into somebody who’s courageous enough to say that. But you do start little by little. And you sit in a room, and somebody says — if you’re all white, and somebody says, “Well, the niggers — ” You may not have the courage right then, but you say, “Whooh! My goodness! It’s already eight o’clock. I have to go,” and leave. Little by little, you develop courage. You sit in a room, and somebody says, “Well, you know what the Japs did then, and what they’re doing now.” Say, “Mm-hmm! I have to go. My goodness! It’s already six o’clock.” Leave. Continue to build the courage. Sooner or later, you’ll be able to say out loud, “Just a minute. I defend that person. I will not have gay bashing, lesbian bashing. Not in my company. I will not do it.

Maya Angelou thinks that humanity transcends all barriers of color or religion. Shebelieves in humanity and the equality of all humans. Through the crucible of a life spent in painand torment caused by rampant racism she emerges as a voice of reason and sanity in ourtroubled world. She says It is of particular interest to see the men who have been important inour struggle; that is, when one looks at Dr. King, a preacher; and Andrew Young, a preacher; and Jesse Jackson, a preacher; and Malcolm X, a preacher; or Louis Farrakhan, a preacher, to see that as a people we tend to be religious, whether we are following Buddha, or in some cases are black Jews or Muslims or Christians or Shintoists for that matter. Martin Luther King, Jr. always said human beings are more alike than we are unalike. She writes of the triumph of the human spirit over hardship and adversity. Her voice speaks of healing and reconciliation, and she is a willing symbol for the American nation on the eve of the twenty-first century.                Frangoise Lionnet

Today Maya Angelou stands at the pinnacle of fame due to her honesty and courage. It is due to her humanistic response to racism that she has reached this apex of perfection. She is a human first and foremost and she firmly believes in the equality of all humans.She says I have accepted the fact that since this is my only life, and as far as I can be assured it is the only one I will ever know, I will not allow myself to be separated from one other human being because of that man or woman’s color, because of his or her persuasion, whether it is one with which I do not agree. I will fight against that one I do not agree with, but I will not be separated from his/her humanity.I must not, because if I do so I deny my own..

But, on a positive note

I’ve learned that no matter

what happens or how bad it

seems today, life does go on

and it will be better tomorrow.                To a Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou

We see that Maya Angelou’s life has been profoundly influenced by racism. From a child to a mature woman of the world, Maya Angelou has had to face racism in many forms and in almost all her spheres of activity. She has automatically given the response of tolerance and humanism to this ugly monster. She has risen above the limitations placed on her by space and time and given a timeless message of hope to the future. Nothing could keep her down for long.

After every setback she shook herself and emerged from the fires of racism like a phoenix.I know what the caged bird feels.

Ah me, when the sun is bright on the upland slopes, when the wind blows soft through the springing grass and the river floats like a sheet of glass, when the first bird sings and the first bud ops, and the faint perfume from its chalice steals.

I know what the caged bird feels

Sympathy                        Sir Lawrence Dunbar

From all of the above it is safe to conclude that Maya Angelou’s life was filled with incidencesof racism yet she rose to a height of greatness and fame only due her perseverance and nobility of character and the beauty of humanism that lies within her.

Filed under: Sample essays — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 9:29 pm

12 Jan 2009

Essays on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Growing up in the economic hardships of the 1930s and coming of age in the 1940s was undoubtedly hard for many children.  For black children, these hardships, when mixed with racism and being treated as less than human, was almost unbearable for many.  Yet through all this, many young black men and women not only managed to survive, but to find balance in an unbalanced world.


The book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” written by Maya Angelou in 1969, stands as a novelized autobiography, following the author as a young black girl through her formative years as she suffers abandonment, molestation, violence, and racial prejudice, factors which today are pointed to as the causes of mental illness.  But somehow the author managed not only to survive, but to find the courage to set out on her own, building an independent life and defying the incredible obstacles in her life.  Her transformation from a scared child to a thriving woman of potential is solidified at the end of the novel as she held her newborn child in her arms for the first time.

  • How did Maya Angelou respond to being abandoned by her parents or by being raped at such a young age?  How did her response affect her life long term?
  • Economic hardships are well known to bring out the worst in people.  Could the environment of the Great Depression have been responsible for Maya Angelou’s suffering such abuse?  Would a white girl during the same era have had as much hardships?  Why or why not?  What might have been different?

Essay topics run thick within this powerful, historic autobiographical novel.  From the aftermath of childhood abandonment and sexual abuse to the ways racism presented itself in the 1930s and 1940s, the underlying issues and messages of the novel paint a picture of amazing survival through hardships almost unimaginable in today’s society, yet also sends one resounding theme throughout … that all things are survivable and that the damage from such events need not undermine the future potential of any victim, regardless of the nature of such victimization.


Many of the topics Angelou’s works bring forward are points of sensitivity in today’s society.  Student’s often find themselves reiterating modern psychological assumptions without giving them a second thought, leading to carbon copy papers that can hardly be considered challenging of these establish assumptions.  With the familiarity our writers have to novels like “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,”  we can assist the student by preparing unique essays on topics such as the effects of childhood sexual abuse and inherent social racism.  All we need to get started is your courageous order.

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