The years in between are marked by at least seven major upheavals of her life, moving from her parents home as a tiny child to her grandmother’s house in Stamps, back to St. Louis to live with her mother and back to Stamps following a rape by her mother’s boyfriend. Eventually, she is returned to her mother, this time in San Francisco. Her visit to her father in Southern California turns into a nightmare period of living on the streets until she is finally able to return to her mother’s home in San Francisco. Throughout the story, Angelou employs a great deal of symbolism to relate her personal journey to the greater journey of the black woman of her generation through such devices as Maya’s Easter Dress, Momma’s store, Maya’s rape at the age of eight, the metaphor of the cage and the concept of voice.
The story begins with a particularly poignant scene from Maya’s early life in Stamps that instantly identifies the degree to which the black community was subdued under the yoke of white expectations through the symbol of the lavender dress. Although Maya’s community is entirely black, her ideals regarding what is beautiful are established by the white world outside. This concept is symbolized in the form of her lavender Easter dress. “I knew that once I put it on I’d look like a movie star … I was going to look like one of the sweet little white girls who were everybody’s dream of what was right with the world” (Angelou 1). In this statement, Angelou captures the primary desire of all black girls of her generation and before and many since who have felt the only way to find social acceptance was to somehow rid oneself of one’s ‘blackness.’ Angelou herself has indicated that she “wasn’t thinking so much about my own life or identity. I was thinking about a particular time in which I lived and the influences of that time on a number of people … I used the central figure –