The most common emotion I feel as a reader is probably excitement. Certain books can get me feeling so raw that I can’t sleep until I finish them. When I do finish that book, I feel sated and re-energized. It’s a fix that gets me through the monotony of life. Tolkien, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald have all provided me with that fix.
It was my addiction that turned me towards Maya Angelou. I had always meant to pick up one of her books but never had gotten around to it, sadly, while she was still with us. As a way to do my part in honoring her memory and contribution to the human soul, I bought I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and got to it.
A few chapters in I began to feel that familiar high and was exhilarated so I kept reading. Then something strange happened. I read the infamous rape scene. My high fizzled and in its place was a new emotion that I don’t usually experience while reading. I was angry. I was angry and I can’t really tell you why. This wasn’t the first rape scene I have encountered in a book. I studied literature in college and am also a fan of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I think what made this particular episode different was its context in an autobiography.
Maya Angelou has forced me to look at the world I live in. The actual rape took place close to a century ago, but it feels as if it could have happened just minutes ago (which of course, statistically speaking, one has happened) The appearance of Maya’s childhood world is no more. It has faded into the past. But, the human heart has the same capacity for evil as it has always had.
In a sense, I have now seen the steel bars of my own cage. I feel powerless against the world I live in which is not very much different from that in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Some of battles of the past have been won and some advances have been made towards equality, but the war will not end until we find a way to combat sexual assault.
Thank you, Maya Angelou, you have forced me to acknowledge this inequality and I think that anger was the first step towards my entering the fight. I just have to find a way to direct myself and see what I can do to help.
Please, read this book so that you can have the same awakening that I had.
By Dan Stump