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Themes

There are no two ways about it: Maya's rape calls her identity into question. Suddenly, she is both a woman and child—but she feels like neither. She spends the rest of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings trying on different identities and hoping that one will stick. In an era before Black Is Beautiful and Take Back the Night, Maya isn't sure what to think of herself. And just to make things tougher, she's forced to figure out who she is on her own terms, without family or friends to help her. Life's a… you know, difficult journey.

Questions About Identity

  1. In what ways is Maya's identity out of her control? In what ways can—and does—she control it?
  2. How does Maya's identity change throughout the novel? Is character Maya's identity different from author Maya's?
  3. Is Maya the only person searching for an identity? Who else is trying to create an identity for themselves in Caged Bird?
  4. What are the most important aspects of Maya's identity?

Chew on This

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

Maya's rape prevents her from having a solid identity.

Maya's identity is molded by those around her. The relationships she has are what define her.

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