1. Research Joe Louis’s rise to prominence in the boxing world, and the difficulties he faced as the first black champion prize fighter.
2. Angelou states: “The black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate, and black lack of power.” Find three incidents in the book which illustrate Maya’s encounter with each part of this “tripartite crossfire.” How do these experiences as a victim of gender and race discrimination shape her character?
3. Research the educational opportunities available to blacks in the 1930s.
4. What is a matriarchal society? Explain its affect on Maya’s growth.
5. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple are both novels about a young black girl growing up in a violent, racist society. Pecola in The Bluest Eye and Celie in The Color Purple are both raped by father figures, as Maya is in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Read either Morrison’s or Walker’s novel and compare the incidents and characterizations with Angelou’s work.