Henrik Ibsen said, “A man should never put on his best trousers when he goes out to battle for freedom and truth”. This quote gives us an idea of what freedom really is and how hard it is to earn it. In her poem, ‘Caged Bird’ Maya Angelou contrasts two birds, one which is free and the other is caged. In doing so she indirectly gives us the meaning of freedom. Even though both birds are the same, their lives are totally different; and in simply contrasting the two, she effectively shows that freedom is that which the free bird has, but the caged bird doesn’t – the right to live life the way one wants.
The free bird has been shown to have the freedom of choice and the ability to live life to the fullest as shown by the lines “A free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current end”. The lines “and dips his wing in the orange sun’s rays and dares to claim the sky” further show that this bird is not barred or restricted by anything and is surrounded by happiness and has nothing to worry about. It also shows that he has limitless potential and as such, can aspire to reach the impossible. The lines “The free bird thinks of another breeze and the trade winds soft through the trees’ emphasize on the fact that this bird has freedom of choice and can think of new opportunities and can easily get them. The very fact that as soon as he thinks of another breeze, the trade winds come, shows that he is living his life with ease; this is further emphasized by the lines ‘and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn’ which show that he has big opportunities all of which will yield a large reward, and that he also lives a lavish life as he has the ‘fat worms’ just ‘waiting’ for him on the lawn.
The caged bird however, has been described as an exact opposite and his life is just as miserable as the free bird’s is lavish. We are told that he unlike the free bird has no freedom of choice as his ‘wings are clipped and his feet are tied’ showing that he is restricted from flying and as such, does not have any opportunities unlike the free bird. The lines ‘and can seldom see through his bars of rage’ show that the caged bird is unable to see the outside bird and his world is restricted to just his cage. This further shows lack of freedom. The only thing that the caged bird can do to express his sorrow is to sing; and as the poem progresses, we can see the caged bird move from singing, to shouting, and then to screaming, which shows the deterioration of his life as it moves on. Words and phrases such as ‘grave of dreams’, ‘nightmare’, ‘fearful’ show the grief and misery that there is in the caged bird’s life.
Coming back to question about what freedom means to the persona, we can clearly see that both the birds are the same (biologically) and yet, their lives are exactly opposite. Their similarity is emphasized by the line structure of the poem – Angelou uses two verses of 7 and 4 lines respectively, to describe the two birds. There is also an element of irony, in that both birds are equal, yet their lives are exactly opposite and if they were to switch roles, they would very easily be able to do so; the only difference between them would then be, what the persona defines as freedom. The free bird is free to chose, has big opportunities and can aspire for the impossible. The caged bird however, has no freedom of choice, no opportunities and lives his life in misery. In contrasting these two birds, the poet shows us that freedom is the ability to live life freely and to its fullest, to be able to choose what you want and enjoy it and most of all, to be free from all restriction and be bound by nothing.