In the memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou documents her personal life growing up in the south as an African American girl. This takes place in the 1930’s where racial segregation is still an immense issue, especially in Stamps, Arkansas where parents have sent Maya and her brother, Bailey, to live with their grandmother, Momma. Angelou portrays that both Maya and Bailey have dealt with abandonment that is difficult to overtake. When Maya is eight years old, her father randomly takes Maya and her brother to live with their mother,Vivian, in Missouri.
Having no parenting experience, Vivian often left the children with her boyfriend, Mr.Freeman. He sexually assaults Maya, but she mistakes him for a fatherly figure to her who is just showing affection. Mr. Freeman is later murdered after being taken to court and Maya blames herself for his actions. After arriving back in Stamps, Maya recognizes the strength of her community and herself. Angelou shows that throughout her memoir, Maya has to overcome numerous setbacks including racism and colorism, sense of alienation, this contributes to Maya’s poor self-worth issues.
With Maya’s parents divorcing when she is only three years old, and her grandma being a fundamentalist, she does not have the special bond that she should between a parent and child. She is not told that she is beautiful or that she is enough, so she feels low about herself. Angelou shows that Maya has poor self image and worth as she constantly compares herself to everyone around her.When Momma is hemming her new dress for church Maya feels like she’ll “look like a movie star” (2), however when she puts it on for church she instantly feels insecure. She expected that she would look like “the sweet little white girl’s who were everybody’s dream” (2), but when that does not happen her world crashes down.
Angelou then reveals the self-deprecating thoughts Maya has about herself when she desires to wake up from her “ugly black dream” (2) and have hair that is “long and blonde”, along with “light-blue eyes that were going to hypnotize” (2). Angelou says this as a young child wishing to be someone else because of how others mock her. Maya feels even more down about herself when Bailey is praised for his “velvet-black skin” (22) and how his “hair fell down in black curls” (22), while the children only insult Maya for her features.
Since Bailey is praised and loved, Maya doesn’t feel like she deserves him in her life when she says, “And yet he love[s] me” (22). However the love from Bailey is not enough for her, she still struggles with feeling accepted. When Maya meets Mr.Freeman she finally feels loved and wanted. Unfortunately, she is too young to realize what he really wants from her. A cycle began to form where he would molest her than ignoring Maya for weeks. One night, when Vivian is out all night Mr.Freeman rapes Maya and threatens ,”If you scream, I’m gonna kill you. And if you tell, I’m gonna kill Bailey”(78). Later, when it was discovered by her family that Maya was raped, Mr.Freeman was charged in court but was later released and found murdered. She feels that since she lied in court that is why he was found dead. Maya completely shut off and stopped talking to others in fear her words will cause more damage.