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Humor as a Mask for Anguish in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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  1. One source of anguish that Maya tries to tickle with humor is her position as an African American.
  2. Maya's grandmother (Momma) is at the center of another African American-white encounter.
  3. Another source of anguish for Maya is her looks.
  4. Maya's less-than-perfect father also is a potential point of distress.
  5. A final aspect of Maya's life in which humor is used is in her copings with sexuality.

As the quote from The New York Times points out on the back cover of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou's novel is ?Simultaneously touching and comic.? Through language, choice of detail, and the story itself, Angelou introduces humor and comic relief to a narrative filled with sadness, loneliness, and fear. The purpose of the humor goes well beyond entertainment purposes, as it is used by Maya as a type of defense mechanism. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, humor is used to mask deep hurt in an attempt to lesson emotional distress.

[...] Maya's less-than-perfect father also is a potential point of distress, providing another example of her use of humor as a mask for emotional anguish. When Daddy Bailey arrives in Stamps without warning, the shock and confusion is ripe with comedy. Maya points out that shoulders were so wide I thought he'd have trouble getting in the door? (54). She uses a fun image in her explanation of his arrival, jesting, seven-year-old world humpty-dumptied, never to be put back together again? (54). [...]


[...] She describes a comical scene where she approaches her mother about her vagina, and learns that a vulva is normal and is in no way a sign of lesbianism. When Maya decides she wants to ?venture into she does so in an amusing manner. In passing a neighborhood young man on the street, she the plan in action. ?Hey.' I plunged, ?Would you like to have a sexual intercourse with me?'? (282). This hasty approach is especially amusing considering the serious consequences of this action. As with other aspects of her life, Maya uses humor to mask the [...]

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