Q & A: How is freedom ironic in Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird”?


How is freedom ironic in Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird“?

The effective use of symbolics by the author creates an atmosphere of reflection for the reader to see the physical and psychological extrapolation on the condition of the two birds contrasted in the poem.

This follows that contrast is another prominent technique employed to press home the author’s message. Beginning from the title through the emphasis laid on the intrinsic element of the plight explored, it becomes pertinent to realise the irony in Maya Angelou’s masterpiece. This essay aims to spotlight on the circumstances we can see in the poem culminate into freedom being ironic as a matter-of-factly social menace.


Beginning from the point of view of symbolism, “bird” is a natural symbol of freedom—quite a birth right. This kind of freedom is intrinsic for every creature.

However, the title, ‘caged bird’ suggests the height of a repressive tendency towards a perception of competition among a community of people. Further, this is a despicable phenomenon in carrying realisations from place to place and people to people. Thus, this natural liberty is subdued to the end that differences translate into classism, segregation, discrimination and devaluation of the other person’s humanity. Hereon we see the relegation that the caged bird, that is, the commodified liberty bemoans in the following discussion.

In contrast, the free bird flaunts every element of a fulfilled existence where the caged variants “stands in the grave of dreams”. In fact, this appellation ‘free’ almost connotes an exaggeration of his nature which includes leaping “on the back of the wind ” /”And floats downstream/till the current ends”. These few lines already tell us that his sense of fulfilment is not time — bound as it is had always been enjoyed from the cradle of his creation — even when he was negotiating his destiny.

The same is able to explore the landmark essence of his existence by thinking “of another breeze” and has “fat worm waiting on a dawn bright lawn”. The tout ensemble of this figuration is to highlight the unspeakable conditioning of both creatures where the ill-fated bird’s long dead dream manures the continuing aspiration of the fortunate bird.

Again, with the portraiture of the poem’s setting, irony is suggested by where the two birds find themselves.

While the free bird “dips his wings/ in the orange sun rays/ and dares to claim the sky”, the victim “stalks down his narrow cage” and ” can seldom see through his bars of rage”.

A bird which is naturally born to forage in the sky is structured to make a narrow cage his home which grounds the reversal of natural order! Added to that, the same tenement on “the grace of dreams” while the other a “dawn bright lawn”.

The message conveyed by the writer through the injurious and circumscribing images and contextual turpitude is to elicit the incapacitated liberty of anyone anywhere and in any circumstance where societal or any relative construct clips their wings and tie their feet.

Finally, the poem advocates in a furtive undertone the emancipation of this strata of circumstantial victims in a way that does not impose redundancy on the reading. It is a unique and open-ended address to such idealised and realised authorities. For the poet though, it is a meditation on the question this puts to the realist in this and all respect of regard for the fundamental right of everyone to enjoy a sense of purpose. It is in this purview that we garner the irony of human freedom in Angelou’s protest poem.

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