Analysis on Maya Angelou's 'Caged Bird'

Essay by kayuportoHigh School, 10th gradeA+, August 2009

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How has the poet conveyed the idea of inequality in her poem ‘Caged Bird’? How has she made this contrast vivid for the reader?The poet, during the whole poem contrasts two very different realities; the caged bird’s and the free bird’s. By alternating the stanzas in the poem, she makes it easier for the reader to compare both birds. The birds throughout the poem are actually an extended metaphor to the conditions of men, some free, some ‘caged’.

When describing the free bird, she uses words like ‘leaps’ and ‘floats’.

By using the phrase “leaps on the back of the wind” she makes an allusion to the children’s game ‘leap frog’, by making allusion to this game, the author compares the free bird with a child, with no duties and nothing to be stuck to.

The word ‘floats’, when used in describing the way the free bird flies shows that the bird is just there, flying with no duties and preoccupations.

He is just flying.

In contrast to leaping and floating, the caged bird is said to ‘stalk’. This word gives a very different impression to the actions of the caged bird, in comparison to the free bird’s. As he “stalks down his narrow cage” he cannot do the same as the free bird. He is stuck to the ground and has no freedom at all.

The free bird is said to float “in the orange sun’s rays”. This sentence brings up an image to the readers head of a cozy, warm day, with the sun shining peacefully upon some hills and also the bird flying, floating amongst the clouds.

When talking about the bird, the poet uses an impactful phrase, she says the caged bird can “seldom see through his bars of rage” and this means the bird rarely sees more than the bars of his cage. This brings to the reader an image of a lonely bird, singing in the dark corner of a dark room.

By using the expression ‘bars of rage’ the poet can mean two things.

First, the bars could contain or be made of rage, which doesn’t let the bird be free.

Another way the ‘Bars of rage’ can be interpreted is, possibly, as the birds rage; the bars are maybe imaginary and what imprisons him is his own rage.

Another comparison the poet makes is the caged bird has his “wings clipped and his feet tied”. This wont let him fly and won’t let him walk. He is chained to the cage so soon, maybe won’t be free at all.

The free bird however, has “fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn” , he has available food wherever and whenever he wishes to. This can be said metaphorically to compare the rich people who can eat whatever they wish at any time at all, with the less fortunate people who struggle to find a piece of bread.

All the comparison the poet makes are to compare the two different situations of life where on side can be considered free and the other side, caged.

The author says: “his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing”. By using the word ‘so’, the impression that is given is that as the bird has nothing else to do, he sings. This situation is similar to the African slaves that had their own ‘work songs’ to encourage them to keep working, even when suffering.

In the poem, songs are used as encouragement, used to give strength to the ‘caged’ people.

Another interesting thing the author says about the free bird is he “dares to claim the sky”. This is said in the first stanza. In the next stanza the author talks about the free bird, he says “and he names the sky his own” meaning the free bird wanted something and got it.

In contrast, the caged bird is said to “opens his throat to sing” and then “sings of freedom” therefore, he is still locked up.

When the poet talks about the free bird, the stanzas are very different, each one giving continuity to the previous one, this is not the same with the caged bird’s stanzas. They are very repetitive; stanzas 2 and 5 end with “so he opens his throat to sing” and stanzas 3 and 6 are exactly the same. These repetitions of phrases and stanzas are made to emphasize the contrast between the two birds and the lack of action in the caged bird’s reality.

The caged bird continues in the same situation he started, even though what he wanted was much less than the free bird wanted.

Source: IGCSE poetry anthology 2008