The Stifled Freedom of a Caged Bird

668 words | 3 page(s)

In Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird”, the reader can better understand the overall meaning of the poem after analyzing Angelou’s use of poetic elements. These elements create the poem’s overall feeling and allow for interpretation of significant meaning. Angelou’s poem is effective at conveying the theme of stifled freedom. Angelou has strategic use of poetic elements that contribute to the effect of the poem. These elements include, but are not limited to, repetition, imagery, theme, speaker’s perspective, and contrast. The following essay analyzes Angelou’s “Caged Bird” by those poetic elements.

It is possible that the speaker in the poem is God or Mother Nature. This interpretation is based on the line: “And his tune is heard/on the distant hill”. This distant hill could be Nature, or God, who has heard the plight of the caged bird. The distant hill promises freedom, maybe only after death. The distant hill is ambiguous in the actual distance; it is possible that the hill is physically distant, or temporarily distant. The hill could be temporarily distant if the meaning is that freedom is escaped in the afterlife. The hill might be physically distant if it is meant that Mother Nature hears these cries of how a caged bird is unnatural and unfree. Therefore, the speaker and the setting of both time and place are as elusive to the reader as to the caged bird. However, all contribute to the promise of freedom, even at the expense of life.

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Angelou uses repetitive imagery when the reader is able to experience the sensation of soaring with the freedom of a free bird. In the first stanza, the momentum of the poem is swift, and flowing. The reader actually feels free as the bird “leaps”, “is swept upward”, “floats”, and the stanza ends with the bird’s freedom to choose its’ own destiny as the bird “dares to claim the sky.” The notion of a bird daring to claim the sky is immense; the reader can imagine a bird’s elation at choosing to soar.

The reader is affected by the use of contrast in the second stanza; Angelou uses more repetitive imagery to affect the reader in the opposite downward manner, with the words “stalks”, “rage”, “clipped”, and no choice at the end of the stanza, even his feet are tied. The momentum, in the second stanza, is halting, and restrictive to the reader. The reader is immediately made to feel as a caged bird would feel; however, the reader, unlike the caged bird has just experienced the freedom of being free. The reader is then put into the same position as the would-be speaker. The speaker understands both freedom and being unfree. The caged bird understands that it is not free. What is tragic, and significant, is that the caged bird does not know what freedom is, aside from the deprivation of it. Therefore, the only opening that the bird has, the only path to freedom is in his own throat: “so he opens his throat and sings” [italics]. The only opening in the cage is the one inside the bird’s self.

The theme of the free bird having choice is reaffirmed when the free bird thinks. The caged bird, on the other hand is confined to physical parameters, that in turn limit the bird’s ability to freely think. Also the freedom of the free bird is created by the repletion of the conjunction “and”. The word “and” suggest more. In contrast, the caged bird has the repeated word “his”. Meaning that there is nothing outside the caged bird’s self, for the cage limits the bird’s ability to know anything outside of himself.

Angelou is able to make the reader feel the “rage” and the “longing” that a caged bird would feel. She is effective at conveying her meaning through the strategic use of poetic elements. As discussed above, these elements create the significance of the caged bird: the theme of stifled freedom.

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