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The main theme of the novel is the pain of learning about life, coming-of-age, and accepting oneself. It is the story of one girlís fight for survival in a cruel world. To make the growing process more difficult, Maya, a near orphan shuttled between people and places, is a victim of sexual, racial, and gender abuse. All her life she searches for love and belonging. She finally finds unexpected peace in early motherhood.
The novel also deals with Themes of racism, sexism, and manís cruelty to his fellow man as young Maya Angelou comes of age.
The mood of the text is both tense and nostalgic. As she looks at her past, the narrator is sometimes frightened, sometimes amused, and sometimes sad. She peppers her narration with adult commentary on the tragedy of being a confused child.
Within the book, there is an entire range of emotions -- from anger and rage to irony and hysteria. In spite of the pain she endures, Maya, as the narrator, is usually upbeat, energetic, and self-evaluating.