I chose I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a companion book for To Kill a Mockingbird and read them together for perspective. Both are autobiographies aspiring to literature and both are told by grown women recalling their girlhood years in the Depression era south. The key difference of course is that one girl is white and the other is black.
Thematically, both books examine prejudice; one from the outside in, the other -more painfully – from the inside out.
Maya Angelou is gifted but she’s not Harper Lee, and it’s unfair to hold them comparatively as literature – so I won’t. I’m also a white man and won’t pretend to appreciate the black woman’s pathos that can only be understood in one singular way. I’m just a reader.
The book tracks the author’s life from 3 to 17 and is a coming of age story. It’s the first of six books and it ends abruptly without closure or resolution. It’s brutal by design and does not blink at child rape or lynching, nor does it soft pedal generalizations. The only thing really worse than whitefolks in this book is powhitetrash, and it’s often difficult to tell the difference.
I spent most of the book heartbroken by the things she endured. I concluded the book heartbroken than she never grew beyond her own racial walls. I kept waiting for her to reach out to me, but it never happened. I simply wasn’t her audience.
Maybe the other books find room for a human race.