I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Questions and Answers ICSE Class 9 and Class 10

Read the extracts given below and answer the questions that follow.

Extract – I

A  free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

Question 1 : Describe the life of the free bird as described by the poetess Maya Angelou.

Answer : The free bird as described by the poetess is enjoying his freedom fearlessly. The bird is enjoying his flight in natural atmosphere or habitat. ‘Dips his wings’ means that the bird is free and uses his wings the way he wants.

Question 2 : What does the free bird symbolise?

Answer : The free bird symbolises people who are free to lead their life the way they want without any prejudicess. The free bird has the opportunity to move through life seeking in its abundance. The people, like free bird are able to make their own decisions and choices.

Question 3 : How does the poetess show her love for nature through this stanza?

Answer : The poetess has described nature beautifully through the movements of free bird as he flies upward in the sky and at the next moment his floating effortlessly down the gentle current of a river. The morning sun has been described as ‘orange sun rays’, a beautiful imagery of rising sun which appears orange, when the bird flies he appears as if he had dipped his wings in the orange sun.

Question 4 : What is the biggest possession of a free bird?

Answer : Freedom is the biggest possession of a free bird that makes him able to experience all kinds of beauty of nature, to fly wherever he wishes, to eat whatever he wants and to live and stay wherever he desires. No matter how big and strong a bird is, cannot even move his wings on his own wish, if he does not possess freedom.

Question 5 : Describe the tone of the poetess in these lines.

Answer : Even though, the poetess is describing the free bird, her tone is a bit satirical as later on she describes the plight of a caged bird representing the condition of African Americans who were exploited by the Whites. The words chosen to describe the free bird like leap, floats, dips etc not only show the freedom of the bird but also highlight the contrast where she describes the caged bird.

Extract – II

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

Question 1 : What is the plight of the bird mentioned in these lines? How is it different from the one described in the first stanza?

Answer : The bird described here is kept in captivity and is not free at all. He is kept in a cage so he is unable to see the open sky as through cage, only limited vision is possible. The bird feels helpless and unhappy. His wings are clipped and feet are tied suggests that he can not do anything independently. This situation keeps him away from flying.

Question 2 : Despite being in a cage, unable to fly, the caged bird sings. Describe the condition of bird in the extract.

Answer : The caged bird, though feels helpless to fly, he sings in expectation that he was created to be free. He hardly even gets a chance to see the sky. The bird is shown to be afraid of many strange and undisclosed things, yet he wants to taste freedom.

Question 3 : What do the words ‘clipped’ and ‘feet tied’ suggest?

Answer : ‘Clipped’ means that freedom of concerned person is curtailed and he is not free to do or move around as he wishes. The blacks in America had to face limitations based on systematic cycle of racial oppression which prevented class mobility. ‘Feet tied’ also suggests slavery as the concerned person is not able to enjoy the liberty or the freedom to do things on his own.

Question 4 : Explain, ‘So he opens his throat to Sing’.

Answer : The last line of this stanza, suggests that inspite of clipped wings and feet tied, the bird still wants to sing or raise his voice so that his craving for freedom can be heard at least. The bird, though in fearful tone calls for freedom.

Question 5 : Whom does the poetess refer indirectly while mentioning the free and the caged birds?

Answer : The poetess here refers to the free bird to the Whites who were free to do whatever  they wished and could live fearlessly. On the other hand the caged bird refers to the Blacks who were oppressed by the Whites. They felt helpless due to slavery, unable to take independent decisions and do whatever they wanted to do.

Extract – III

The caged  bird sings
with fearful trill
of things unknown
but longer for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Question 1 : Here the poetess says that ‘caged bird sings with fearful trill’, why?

Answer : The poetess says that ‘caged bird sings with a fearful trill’ – is ironic as the caged bird is the one singing not like the free bird as we expect. The words ‘fearful’ and ‘trill’ make us realise that actually it is not a happy voice by a desperate cry for freedom.

Question 2 : What does the poetess mean by the expression, ‘his tune is heard on the distant hill’?

Answer : The poetess reveals that the caged bird’s cry for freedom is heard only as a soft background noise. His cries are heard only as a distant noise. No one gives attention to his voice, though he too was created by God and has a right to live with dignity and freedom.

Question 3 : What is the purpose of repeating the line ‘the caged bird sings of freedom’?

Answer : The purpose of repeating the line ‘the caged bird sings of freedom’ shows the poetess’ yearning for freedom. ‘Sings of freedom’ suggests, raising the voice against racism and the poetess in her life sang and danced because it was her way of expressing her longing for freedom and her protest against partiality.

Question 4 : How is this poem a reflection of social disparity?

Answer :  The poetess Maya Angelou has used metaphors of free bird and caged bird interchangeably to reflect on the social disparity. With the use of these metaphors Angelou represents the inequality of justice in the society of her time when African Americans were not treated at par with the White Americans. She also illustrates the nature of both freedom and slavery by created a deep contrast between the two by showing free and caged bird.

Question 5 : Why does the bird in the cage sing of freedom? What does it imply?

Answer : The last line may imply that though the bird is inside the cage, he dares to sing. He may never have experienced freedom but he still sings as everyone was created free. This is similar to what the Black Americans did. They wrote and sang and cried for freedom they deserved, but it took a long time before their voice was heard.

But nothing could stop them as they were aware that everybody has the right to live as a free individual and making someone slave was incorrect and unethical.

They knew they will continue their struggle, until they were made free and live freely to enjoy life.

Extract – IV

The free bird thinks of another breeze and the
trade winds of soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright
lawn and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

Question 1 : How, through this poem, the poetess has shown the various activities of free bird?

Answer : In this stanza the poetess shows the liberty taken by free bird. He is free to move in any direction but he is not contented and chooses another breeze so that he can enjoy more freedom and be free to find his own food. The bird is not contented and is greedy to have even more freedom.

Question 2 : How is the life of a caged bird is not same as that of a free bird?

Answer : The poem shows the life of a free bird and a caged bird. The caged bird is not free. He can not fly as he is put inside the cage. All his dreams and desires have died sitting inside a cage. He does not get a chance to see the outside world and explore the sky. He is afraid but still he opens his mouth to sing because his inherent desire for freedom can not be taken away. The free bird is allowed to fly and explore different areas but a caged bird is not able to even fly.

Question 3 : Explain, ‘The grave of dream’.

Answer : The caged bird is not free to pursue what he dreams. As he lives in captivity inside the cage, he has not been able to fulfil his dreams and aspirations. So, the poet calls the bird’s cage as ‘grave of dreams’ . The bird’s ambitions and aspirations are suppressed by the sorrowful captivity inside the cage.

Question 4 : Why do you think Maya Angelou wrote this poem?

Answer : Maya Angelou must have written this poem to bring out the fact that a wide disparity existed in the treatment and facilities given to White Americans and African Americans. The caged bird symbolises the plight of African Americans who were deprived of freedom and were not able to fulfil their dreams and desires.

Question 5 : How does the description of a caged bird resemble the state of mind of the poetess?

Answer : As the poetess Maya Angelou was an African American, she was a victim of racism and segregation (apart from state). The caged bird and his grave of dreams reveals the poet’s feelings about her own dreams. She had so many desires but all of them were suppressed as she was never given an opportunity.

Being a Black author and poetess, she often felt that her words were not heard, she was often experiencing slavery. Partially and racism, made her caged and although she sang, she felt her voice was not heard in the world, but only by those near her cage.

Extract – V

But a caged bird stand on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

Question 1 : In the context of the poem who is a ‘free bird’ and who is a ‘caged bird’?  What mood do the above lines convey?

Answer : The white people in America are referred as ‘free bird’ and the blacks in America are referred as ‘caged bird’. The lines convey the angry and sad mood of the ‘caged bird’.

Question 2 : How does a free live in his life? What are the things he thinks of and dreams about?

Answer : The free bird enjoys his freedom fearlessly. He thinks of another breeze through the trees and dreams of good eatables like fat worms waiting on a bright lawn.

Question 3 : What does the caged bird sing about? What are the restrictions that a caged bird has to deal with?

Answer : The caged bird sings about ‘things unknown’. ‘Things unknown’ refers to the fact that the caged bird has never enjoyed freedom before and has no idea of what it tastes like.

The caged bird is unable to see the open sky as through the cage only limited vision is possible. His wings are dipped and feet are tied and hence he cannot move or fly.

Question 4 : What do you understand from the title of the poem? What do you like about the poem?

Answer : The title of the poem compares the life of the bird who lives freely to the one who is confined to a cage. The poet uses the metaphor of a bird struggling to escape its cage. The caged bird represents the poet’s confinement resulting from racism and oppression. I like the way in which the poet has described the caged bird and the free bird.

Question 5 : Explain what you understand by the following lines:

‘……. a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage’
‘he names the sky his own’

Answer : (i) ‘……………… a bird that stalks down his narrow cage’ means that the bird in the cage is unable to move freely and is angry at his helplessness.

(ii) ‘he names the sky his own’ means that the free bird has all the freedom and so he thinks that the sky belongs to him.