I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, was one of the most touching books that I have ever read in my fourteen years of life. While reading To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, in my eighth grade English class, we were assigned to read an independent reading book on a similar topic.
"For the first semester, I was one of three black students in the school, and in that rarefied atmosphere I came to love my people more. Mornings as the streetcar traversed my ghetto I experienced a mixture of dread and trauma. I knew that all too soon we would be out of my familiar setting, and Blacks who were on the streetcar when I got on would all be gone and I alone would face forty blocks of neat streets, smooth lawns, white houses, and rich children." As a white female reader, I found Maya Angelou's views very interesting and different from what I had expected. Her point of view helped me to understand her and her feelings even more deeply than I already did. It also helped me to understand the contrast between the races at the time.
"I guess it ain't your fault if Uncle Atticus is a n----r-lover besides, but I'm here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family-" says one of the white main character's cousins in To Kill A Mockingbird.
Both books portray racism in America in the earlier part of the twentieth century and the great similarities and differences between the two races. One of the similarities in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and To Kill A Mockingbird was religion. Religion was a very large factor in both a white and black person's life in the two books. However, while religion was important to the different races, it was for very different reasons.
In the African-American community, God was someone to love and praise for his support, love, and care. Church offered a chance to become closer to God and to ask for his love, help, and forgiveness. It was also a place to embrace other people in the community and to help them, too. Unlike the white citizens, the blacks go to great lengths to be at a place of worship.
For example, in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, a black couple exhausted from an almost twelve-hour work day come into Maya Angelou's grandmother's store to buy food. That night at a church gathering, a young Maya elaborates on how she saw the same couple there with their children, full of energy and life as they prayed to God. Another example of love and support in a black church is in To Kill A Mockingbird. While a member of the black community, Tom Robinson, is on trial for a crime he didn't commit, the church members gather together to help him. They start an offering for Tom's wife and children to help support them while he is unable to work.
In the white community, church is considered to be more of a social experience. Even though in both books religion is widely discussed and referred to by the white characters, church isn't shown to have any great significance to an individual. Another difference between the two races is their different opinions of God. While the African-Americans love and praise God, the whites see God as an almighty power who one should fear.
In both books the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches are mentioned, but they are only mentioned in reference to white people and their churches. In the black community there is only one church -- a Christian one. The white churchgoers felt it necessary to differentiate themselves from the rest of the community, even though they were all praying to the same God.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a wonderfully written book about the experiences of a young African-American woman growing up in a racist society. The reader grows up along with Maya Angelou as she is violated by close friends, betrayed by family, experiences racism, and learns to become independent. It is a wonderfully descriptive and captivating book that should be required to be read by all Americans.