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Identity of Maya Angelou

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On a very broad scale, life can be considered to merely be a measurement of events, happenings, and interactions with other human beings. If every person was charged with the task of compiling their own autobiography, they would carefully select particular occurrences from their past, and pointedly omit others. It is this selection process, and the reasoning behind it, that makes the autobiography such an interesting and unique literary genre. In reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, one is able to directly detect several events in her life, which had a significant impact on her personal development and her understanding of society.

Upon her return to Stamps, Arkansas, from the damaging stay in St. Louis, Maya undergoes a drastic transformation. She is mute and morose, and it seems certain to the reader that she will tragically continue on in this way, creeping further back into her ‘cocoon.’ Maya is suspended in this mindset for nearly a year before meeting the woman she later described as ‘my first lifeline.’ Mrs. Bertha Flowers impacted Maya so profoundly that she later says of the woman, “…she has remained throughout my life the measure of what a human being can be” (pg. 94).

It was through her interactions with Mrs. Flowers that Maya first experienced an African woman’s potential for grace and refinement. This was the beginning of Maya’s journey towards acceptance: granting herself permission to be who she was, and liberating herself from the expectations of others.

Mrs. Flowers also introduced Maya to the beauty and potential of literature and the human voice. Education and knowledge had always been

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