© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Appearance Theme

It's what's on the inside that counts, right? Well, it takes Maya thirty-six chapters of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings—oh, and sixteen years of life—to figure that out. This girl thinks she's just plain ugly. Chalk it up to young girl insecurities, a lack of parental love, or a culture that praises white beauty, but Maya just doesn't see herself as attractive. But once that baby is in her tummy, everything changes.

Questions About Appearance

  1. What does it mean to be beautiful in Caged Bird? Are there any good characters that are ugly? Are there any bad characters that are beautiful?
  2. Do you think Maya is exaggerating the beauty of her family? Why or why not?
  3. Why is Maya so obsessed with her and other people's looks? Why are appearances so important to her?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Beauty is a symbol of goodness in the novel—everyone who ugly is also a bad person. No wonder Maya wishes she were beautiful.

Maya's change in appearance during her pregnancy is a metaphor for her newfound independence and self-acceptance.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement