Caged Bird Summary Notes

Caged Bird Author

Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Annie Johnson (4th April 1928 – 28th May 2014) was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights, activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. Angelou is best known for her series of seven autobiographies, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), which brought her international recognition and acclaim, is about her life up to the age of 17.

She was respected as a spokesperson for black people and women, and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. “Caged Bird” is a poem that considers the conditions of the ‘free bird and the ‘caged bird’. Actually, this contrast between the birds enables her to express her own emotions about freedom and isolation. The reader can extend this feeling of being ‘caged in’ to the human condition as well.

The poet describes a bird with clipped wings. Its feet have been tied, and it has been placed in a cage that prevents it from flying away. Despite its fear, the caged bird continues to sing of freedom.

  • Angelou describes the joy that a free bird takes in soaring through the sky.
  • Angelou then describes a bird that has been caged, its feet tied and wings clipped.
  • The caged bird rails against its imprisonment. In spite of its fear, it sings of freedom.

Caged Bird Summary

‘Caged Bird’ is a poem written by Maya Angelou in the year 1983. She was respected as a spokesperson for black people and women and her works have been considered a defense of black culture. “Caged Bird” is a poem that considers the conditions of the ‘free bird’ and the ‘caged bird’. Actually, this contrast between the birds enables her to express her own emotions about freedom and isolation. The poem is quite symbolic so there are various hidden messages she tries to convey about her feeling mostly indirectly. The ‘ free bird’ is a symbol of freedom and the ‘caged bird’s a symbol of isolation. Maya Angelou, being a civil rights activist has written the poem to reflect the social disparity, ideals of freedom, and justice. The poet has effectively used the metaphor of two birds, one with its wings clipped and caged and another bird that flies freely in the open sky to compare the themes of inequality and oppression to contrast with equality and freedom.
“The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
And dares to claim the sky”
Maya Angelou begins the poem with the imagery of a bird leaping “on the back of the wind”, this bird depicts the freedom it experiences to move about and glide freely through the air. It hovers over a stream of wind and floats down to where the current of the wind stream ends. The wind is calm. The environment is congenial. This congenial environment offers the bird freedom to move wherever it wishes. It dips its wings and wallows in the sea of orange sunlit. The bird is happy and contented. It wallows in its own contentment of being free in an unrestricted environment (Freedom)

The bird is shown as living in a tranquil environment conducive to freedom to move about wherever it desires. It is totally free and without any restrictions and hence “It dares to claim the sky” i.e, it is free to reach its own zenith of achievement. There are no limitations to its desires.
“But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing”
Here the poet uses a contrasting picture of ‘Caged bird’, to depict a situation of isolation, discrimination, and oppression. The caged bird is frustrated by its situation. It desires to break free from its bondage in a ‘narrow cage’. This bird is not allowed to see beyond “His bars of rage”. It is never allowed the freedom to think beyond its situation, ‘Bars of rage’ is used as a metaphor for ‘oppression’. The birds’ wings are clipped and his feet are tied’ – Its freedom is curbed. It is not free to do as it desires. It is alienated. But despite being in a despondent predicament, the caged bird ‘opens his throat of sing’. The caged bird can do nothing except raise its voice against its oppressors.
‘‘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”.
This ‘caged bird’ sings with a ‘fearful trill’. Its voice wavers with sorrow and fear. It sings, recalling the times when it was free. It sings about of dreams of freedom, The ‘caged bird’ has not experienced freedom but longs for it. His singing; his voice, now, can be heard far-away over, the hills. The situation of the caged bird is now heard all over the world. This caged bird does not sing because it is sad. It sings because of hope and desire for freedom.

It is ironic that it is the caged bird that signs but not the Freebird. The free bird has nothing to lament, but the caged bird sings a desperate song of freedom. It is very important for the caged bird to be free, hence its signs of freedom.
‘The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own”
Here the free bird is shown to be enjoying his freedom. He has the freedom of choice. The free bird thinks of another breeze. The free bird is free to choose, to fly the ‘trade winds’ that softly blow through the ‘sighing trees’. The trees are ‘sighing’ because they are not free they are rooted to the earth. The free bird has the freedom to choose whichever way he wants to fly. He has no restrictions. He can feed on the fat and delicious worms that come out of the soil early in the morning. The free bird is free to explore new territories of his choice and enjoy the fruits of his freedom. This free bird claims the sky as his own. He is the master of his own universe.
“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing”.
The poet again presents the conflicting situation of the ‘caged bird’ He is imprisoned in a narrow cage. Hence he ‘stands on the grave of dreams. His dreams remain unfulfilled. He cannot ever realize his dreams. His dreams are dead because his wings are clipped and his feet are tied. – He is imprisoned in a narrow cage.

He has lost all hopes of freedom ‘His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream. The bird is now a shadow of his former self. It was once hopefully dreaming of freedom but now it is having ‘nightmares’ of oppression and ‘screaming’ for justice and freedom and of losing his dreams and aspirations. Hence the bird’s pathetic condition makes it to ‘open his throat to sing’. The ‘shadow’ of the bird is still a part of him i.e., he still hasn’t lost his desire for freedom, he is not defeated by his oppression. He does not relent to his situation and sit silently in his cage but, he raises his voice to sing, he dares to fight against his oppressors.
‘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”
The repetition of the last stanza by the poet is to emphasize the bird’s determination to still pursue freedom The caged bird sings because it is the only freedom it can choose to assert its feelings. Thank God, his voice is not subdued by his oppressors. Though his freedom is curbed, he still hasn’t lost his dreams and aspirations. He raises his voice to sing so that he can be heard at far away places. He still hasn’t lost his hope of freedom. Hence the poet imperatively states that she knows ‘Why the caged bird sings.

Thus the poet sends a message to her people that they should not lose hope but raise their voice and fight for their freedom, even if they are imprisoned by their oppressors.

Caged Bird Glossary

Current                    : a large movement of water in one direction
Stalks down             : to move persistently up and down
Bars of rage             : the bird’s pent up frustration and anger at its situation
Fearful trill                : a vibratory or quavering sound which suggests that there is an uncertainty within its song
Grave of dreams      : a death image, the hopes, and dreams of a whole race of people are dead

Shadow shouts on a nightmare scream:
the scream due to a frightening dream is coming from the shadow instead of the bird; suggestive of the fact that no one pays heed to the desperate cry of the bird confined in the cage.

Caged Bird Questions & Answers

Question 1.
How does the poet describe the flight of the free bird?
Answer:
The poet describes the flight of the free bird vividly to give us the imagery of the freedom, the bird, enjoyed. The free bird floats effortlessly on the back of the wind. This bird depicts the freedom it experiences to move about and glide freely through the air. It hovers over a stream of wind and floats down to where the current of the wind stream ends. The wind is calm The environment is congenial. This congenial environment offers the bird freedom to move wherever it wishes. It dips its wings and wallows in the sea of orange sunlight, the bird is happy and contended. It wallows in its own contentment. The bird is shown as living in a tranquil environment conducive to the freedom to move about wherever it desires. It is totally free and without restriction and hence it dares to claim the sky, ie, it can fearlessly reach its own zenith of achievement, there are limitations to its desires.

Question 2.
Who is the speaker and what is the subject of the poem?
Answer:
The poet is the speaker in the poem The subject of the poem is about comparing and contrasting the freedom enjoyed by a free bird and the plight of a caged bird whose wings or clipped and legs are tied. The poem depicts the resilience and strength of the caged bird in the face of adversity. The poem conveys a feeling of hope and imminent freedom from discrimination and oppression.

Question 3.
Who / what does the free bird symbolize?
Answer:
a) The people who live in this world unconstrained by prejudice of any type
b) The shackled feet of the oppressed
c) The unheard cries of the suppressed
Answer:
a)The people who live in this world unconstrained by the prejudice of any type

Question 4.
What does “bars of rage” refer to in the second stanza?
Answer:
The “bars of rage” refers to confinement, imprisonment which suggests that that the cage is the bird’s own creation. It refers to a closed mind that is clouded by anger, that traps the bird in the cage of its own making. The ‘rage’ is due to oppression and discrimination the bird faces in society.

Question 5.
The word “clipped” in the poem means _____________ literally and _____________________ metaphorically.
Answer:
The word ‘Clipped’ in the poem means ‘trimmed’ literally and curtailed metaphorically.

Question 6.
“And his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream” suggests that
a) the bird does not concede defeat and sit silently in the cage, instead it sings in support of freedom.
b) the bird has no hope for freedom and shouts out loud
c) the bird is scared of its nightmares and it shouts at the top of its voice.
Answer:
a) the bird does not concede defeat and sit silent in the cage, instead it sings in support of freedom.

Question 7.
What is the tone of the poem?
Answer:
The tone of the poem is poignant. The caged bird is helpless and opens its throat to pour out its feelings of frustration, sorrow and despair. It evokes the sympathy of the reader for the bird which is imprisoned by its oppressors. The bird does not give up in despair but hopes to be free one day. The tone of the poem is sorrowful but yet it evokes hope in the mind of the reader.

Question 8.
Mention two examples of imagery in the poem.
Answer:
In the first stanza of the poem, the poet Maya Angelou creates the imagery of a ‘free bird’ leaping on the ‘back of the wind’. The Bird floats ‘downstream’ dipping its wing “in the orange sun rays”. The reader can imagine a fearless bird flying free in the sky wallowing in its own contentment. In the second stanza of the poem, the poet creates the imagery of a ‘caged bird’ stalking ‘down his narrow cage’ the reader can imagine a bird that is caged.

Question 9.
The poetic devices used in the poem are
a) Alliteration
b) Personification
c) Imagery
d) All the above
Answer:
d) All the above

Question 10.
What are the fears of the caged bird as described in the poem?
Answer:
In the poem ‘Caged Bird’ the poet, in the last stanza, says that the caged bird sings with a fearful trill’. i.e, the birds voice wavers in fear and sorrow when it sings. May be the birds voice wavers in uncertainty of its fear, i.e., will it gain the freedom it desires or rather will it ever be free from being confined in the cage. The birds fears that it may not overcome the ‘rage’ it feels for its oppressors forever.

Question 11.
Explain the figures of speech used in the poem.
Answer:
In the poem, ‘Caged Bird’ the poet Maya Angelou uses the metaphor of a ‘caged bird’ to represent the discrimination and oppression freed by the African American community and the white Americans who were the oppressors.

The poet uses repetition of the third and sixth stanzas. The ‘Caged bird’ (African – American) is not defeated, it does not throw up its hands in defeat and despair. It does not lose hope but sings at the top of its voice, even if no one cares to listen to it. It does not stop its ciy for freedom in despair.

The poet uses end rhymes ‘trill’, ‘still’ and ‘hill’ in the second; fourth and sixth lines of the poem, to describe the condition of the ‘caged bird’.

In the first stanza of the poem, the poet Maya Angelou creates the imagery of a ‘free bird’ leaping on the ‘back of the wind’. The bird floats ‘downstream’ dipping its wing “in the orange sun rays”. The reader can imagine a fearless bird flying free in the sky wallowing in its own contentment. In the second stanza of the poem the poet creates the imagery of a ‘caged bird’ stalking ‘down his narrow cage’ the reader can imagine a bird that is caged.

The poet uses personification and alteration in the fourth stanza when the caged birds “shadow shouts on a nightmare scream’ to give the caged bird’s shadow a human quality of shouting, which emphasizes the pathetic and nightmarish existence of the caged bird.

Question 12.
Why does the caged bird stand on the “grave of dreams”?
Answer:
In the poem ‘Caged Bird’ the caged bird is a metaphor for the African – American people who are oppressed by the white American people.

The poet writes that the caged bird ‘stands on the grave of dream’s’ which is metaphorically compared to the unrealized dreams and aspiration of the oppressed African – Americans. They were supressed by unjust laws that curbed their freedom. Their dreams are unfulfilled. They cannot ever realize their dreams and their dreams are dead because their wings are clipped and their feet are tied’ – They are imprisoned in a narrow cage. Their dreams are buried and they lament their unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. The ‘grave of dreams’ presents an image of death and decay, which mirrors the sense of futility and lack of hope for the African – American people in an oppressed society. The ‘grave of dreams’ symbolizes their futile dreams.

Question 13.
Describe the free bird’s surroundings and the effects the surroundings have in the poem.
Answer:
The ‘free bird’ is fearlessly and with contented abandon, flying in the breeze under the wide open blue sky. It wallows in the ‘orange sunlight’. It is contented, because it is free and can indulge itself in its freedom. It drifts and glides as if the whole sky belongs to it. Its flight is unrestricted because it thinks that it owns the sky. It finds ‘fat worms’ to satisfy its hunger, ‘waiting on a dawn bright lawn’. It poem.

In the poem ‘Caged Bird’ the poet Maya Angelou uses the metaphor of a ‘Caged Bird’ and a ‘free bird’ to contrast the idea of freedom and the plight of the oppressed. She efficiently conveys that the oppressed people suffer psychologically and emotionally, but never lose hope of freedom. The ‘free bird’ has the freedom to fly anywhere it wants and can wallow in its contentment and freedom. It dares to claim the sky as his own. The freebird is its own master, it has got the right to go anywhere and do anything it pleases to do.

In contrast to the free bird, the caged bird is associated with hopelessness, pain and fear. He is imprisoned by the weight of the restrictions heaped up on him. The caged bird is isolated, discriminated and oppressed. Its freedom is curbed. But it does not lose the hope to be free and raises its voice in protest. He is determined to break free of his oppressors.

The poet means to convey the message that the desire to be free will always be expressed, despite being restricted and the spirit of the oppressed cannot be broken.

Question 14.
Discuss how the theme of self-awareness is brought out in the poem.
Answer:
In the poem ‘Caged Bird’, the poet Maya Angelou uses the metaphor ofa ‘Caged Bird’ to convey the theme of self – awareness. The ‘Caged brid’, ‘can seldom see through his bars of rage’. The ‘Caged bird’ is enraged because it is aware that it misses the freedom that the others enjoy. The ‘Caged Bird’ ‘stalks down his narrow cage’. The caged bird is restless. It yearns for freedom. It is aware that it is living in an oppressed, unnatural environment. It is aware that it is helpless, but its ‘rage’ incites it to raise it voice – ‘he opens his throat to sing’. The bird is aware that it can’t do anything but to raise its voice against its oppressors.

Though the birds voice wavers with uncertainty of it being free, it raises its voice to to let anyone who cares to listen to it. The bird is aware that its future is uncertain yet it desires to be free. It thinks that it is better to be free in an uncertain world rather than being imprisoned in a cage.

Question 15.
Why do you think the metaphor of a caged bird holds so much meaning for Angelou? Do you think the metaphor applies to her life? Elaborate.
Answer:
Yes, I think the metaphor of a caged bird holds much meaning for the poet Maya Angelou because she uses the metaphor in most of her poetry as evident in the poem ‘Caged Bird’. She also thinks the metaphor also applies to her life. Being a woman, and that too African American women, she has experienced the anguish of being discriminated against racially as well as for being a woman.

The ‘caged bird’ pleads its oppressors to understand its plight and to let it be free of oppression because it is also a living being with, dreams, desires and aspirations.

LANGUAGE ACTIVITY

TRANSFORMATION OF SENTENCES – PART II ASSERTIVE TO EXCLAMATORY

Exercise

Convert the following Assertive sentences into Exclamatory sentences:

Question 1.
She is a brilliant actor.
Answer:
Oh, what a brilliant actress she is!

Question 2.
You are very kind.
Answer:
Oh, that’s very kind of you!

Question 3.
Iron is very Useful.
Answer:
Oh, the usefulness of Iron!

Question 4.
Sophia is a gorgeous young lady.
Answer:
What a gorgeous lady, Sofia is!

Question 5.
You have a lovely smile.
Answer:
Oh, what a lovely smile you have!

Question 6.
He is very generous.
Answer:
Oh, how generous he is!

Question 7.
She is very knowledgeable.
Answer:
Oh, how knowledgeable she is!

Question 8.
I wish I had a pet dog.
Answer:
Iflhadadog!

Question 9.
It was a pleasant surprise.
Answer:
What a pleasant surprise!

Question 10.
I wish I could drive a car.
Answer:
If I could drive a car!

Question 11.
It is a lovely rose.
Answer:
Oh, what a lovely rose, it is!

Question 12.
I was very foolish.
Answer:
Oh, how foolish of me!

Question 13.
Rama sent Sita to the forest again.
Answer:
Alas, Rama sent Sita to the forest again!

Question 14.
He hit a six again.
Answer:
Oh, he hit a six again!

Question 15.
It was a very tall tree.
Answer:
Oh, how tall the tree is!

English Summary

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