Influences of Maya Angelou
Adam Baginski Mr. Kearney ENG 2DB Wednesday, April 27, 2011 Influences of Maya Angelou Everyone’s lives are shaped by their childhood lessons and experiences. Most people are directly influenced by their parents and other important adult figures in their lives. Children are prone to have certain characteristics and beliefs because of what is told to them or a specific event which they encounter. In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s life evolves and is enriched because of the people who take care of her.
She receives advice from many human beings, and must choose what guidance to follow. Maya is influenced the most by Momma, Daddy Clidell, and Mrs. Flowers. To begin, Momma, as her name indicates, is like a mother figure. Even though she was Maya’s grandmother, she takes on full responsibilities as if Maya were her own child. Since Maya is abandoned by her parents, Momma takes her in and teaches her many important life lessons. She always makes sure Maya puts God first and has respect for all religion. I would have wriggled just a bit, but each time I looked over at Momma, she seemed to threaten, ‘Move and I’ll tear
She makes sure her grandchildren are clean of body as well as clean of soul. “‘Thou shall not be dirty’ and ‘Thou shall not be impudent’ were the two commandments of Grandmother Henderson upon which hung our total salvation. ” (Angelou, 21) Momma is very religious, and always brings God into her arguments whenever possible. She states that it was a sin to be dirty or to misbehave. Maya learns these very significant lessons and, although they are important in day-to-day life, they taught her to survive in life and assisted her in achieving her goals, which she had made for herself.
These lessons distinguished her as a child and made her more mature than she was. Lastly, Maya’s grandmother shows Maya how she should always work hard in life, especially in school: “When Bailey was six and I was a year younger, we used to rattle off the times tables with the speed I was later to see Chinese children in San Francisco employ on their abacuses. ” (Angelou, 8) One of the most pieces of advice Maya receives was that, in order to achieve any form of success in life, she must work hard.
She was taught through very tedious and repetitive methods to memorize the times tables. Because of this experience as a child, she is used to working hard in order to be at the top of the spectrum. She always strived to get highest levels possible. Her habits of persistence and hard work ended up making her the first black, female streetcar conductor, as well as making her famous around the world today. Momma raised Maya from a very young age, and was able to teach her much more than anyone else. That is why Momma made the greatest influence on Maya.
While Momma taught Maya how to live her life very formally and morally, Daddy Clidell taught her about realistic life in the world around her. He loved Maya and treated her in a way that every father should, much unlike the way Daddy Bailey treated her: “Soon after, Mother married Daddy Clidell, who turned out to be the first father I would ever know. ” (Angelou, 177) For the most part, everyone’s parents influence them and their development as a human, but Maya did not truly have parents throughout her life. Momma and Daddy Clidell took the initiative of that role for Maya later on in her life.
She only met Daddy Clidell much later in her life, but she still learned a lot. His behaviour was different from that of Daddy Bailey, and she was finally able to communicate with someone that understood her, and even resembled her. Although he was not formally educated, he had lived through and experienced many events that changed him into the down-to-earth person he is, and he wanted to give Maya as much of what he knew. One of the lessons he educated Maya in was to engage in, and be good at, entertainment famous in the streets. … Daddy Clidell taught me to play poker, blackjack, tonk and high, low, Jick, Jack and the Game. ” (Angelou, 186) Since Daddy Clidell did not obtain a formal education, he was incapable of teaching Maya academically, but he still felt he should contribute to Maya’s knowledge in one way. Since he knew about gambling, he wanted to make sure Maya knew how to play games too. Another point of influence on Maya that Daddy Clidell made, was introducing her to the street life, and how the San Franciscan Underground functions. Daddy Clidell explained to me that they [Stonewall Jimmy, Just Black, Cool Clyde, Tight Coat and Red Leg] were the most successful conmen in the world, and they were going to tell me about some games so that I would never be anyone’s mark. ” (Angelou, 187) Since Daddy Clidell had connections with these people, he wanted to make sure Maya did not fall victim to scams or any other immoral behavior. Because he wanted her to succeed in life, Daddy Clidell wanted Maya to know all about con men, who could later in her life, destroy her career by stealing her savings.
This lesson also made Maya aware that not all people choose to fight for their beliefs righteously, and may resort to slightly illicit behavior in order to achieve what they want. However, Maya knew that she had to behave by the Lord’s expectations, and always attain her goals legitimately. Finally, although Maya only knew Mrs. Flowers for a short period of time, Maya learned a lot about poetry and literature. This is obvious because Maya ended up becoming a famous writer, all thanks to the influence of Mrs.
Flowers. Mrs. Flowers was a black aristocrat that knew of white culture, and was able to confer upon Maya information about white life in a way that Maya could understand: “She acted just as refined as whitefolks in the movies and books and was more beautiful…” (Angelou, 79) Because Maya grew up in a society were black people were so segregated from white people, she always had negative thoughts about them. Whenever she viewed a movie or read a book about white people, she wished she could be as successful as them.
Sometimes she wished she could escape from her black body and be free, while other times she was proud, and she wanted to achieve victory through hard work. Mrs. Flowers, however, changed her perspective on aristocracy and its connection to skin colour. When they talked together, Maya realized that Mrs. Flowers’ vocabulary and pronunciation was perfect, and that even though she was black, she had very creative views on literature. Maya learns that skin colour does not change the way a person must talk, move or act, and that every individual creates their own pathway.
From this interaction, Maya learned she must be unique, and try to push through the world’s oppression on her. Also, when Maya came back to Stamps after getting raped, she had trouble communicating. When she goes to see Mrs. Flowers, her strength to speak is rejuvenated. “Now no one is going to make you talk – possibly no one can. But bear in mind, language is man’s way of communicating with his fellow man and it is language alone which separates him from the lower animals. (Angelou, 82) After experiencing such a horrific encounter, Maya felt that she had to keep all her emotions and thoughts bottled up, because she was scared, as well as because she did not want anyone truly knowing what she felt. Mrs. Flowers teaches her the importance of speaking, and although she knows she cannot force Maya to talk, she can encourage her to. It is ultimately Maya’s decision, and because she was mature, she chose to express her feelings verbally. Had Mrs. Flowers not influenced Maya to speak, she would not have been nearly as successful as the spokesperson and writer she is today.
In addition to persuading Maya to talk, Mrs. Flowers also showed her the magic of expressing herself creatively: “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning. ” (Angelou 82) Although Maya and Bailey were absorbed in literature prior to Maya’s visit to Mrs. Flowers, she always read them in her mind or out loud in a very monotonous voice, and never truly capturing the meaning that which is portrayed in the poem or novel. After she hears Mrs. Flowers narrate with great expression, she is opened up to the true world of expression and creativity.
She never knew that so much could be captured in a simple reading. This led her to become a famous writer, as well as making use of all her other talents to advance in her career. Without the help of Mrs. Flowers, Maya Angelou would not have been as happy or successful as she became throughout her life. The three major characters who influence Maya throughout her life are Momma, Daddy Clidell and Mrs. Flowers. Mrs. Flowers opened Maya’s eyes to the world of creativity and literature. Daddy Clidell taught Maya how to survive in the San Francisco underground.
Momma taught Maya to always be hard working and persistent, and never be limited to what people wanted her to achieve. Maya is influenced by many people throughout her life, but these three main figures contribute to her growth and development the most. There will always be important figures in our lives, and no matter how hard we try, they will always have an impact on our lives, whether it is negative or positive. Works Cited 1. Angelou, Maya. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. 1st ed. New York, NY: Random House, Inc. , 1970. Print.