I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Dr. Lincoln Character Analysis

Dr. Lincoln is the white dentist in Stamps, Arkansas. Though Momma once lent him money to establish his practice, he refuses to return the favor by pulling Marguerite’s teeth when she has very painful cavities. He says he would prefer to stick his hand in a dog’s mouth than provide dental care for a black person.

Dr. Lincoln Quotes in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings quotes below are all either spoken by Dr. Lincoln or refer to Dr. Lincoln. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Bantam Books edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings published in 1993.
Chapter 24 Quotes

“Annie, my policy is I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s”

Related Characters: Dr. Lincoln (speaker), Maya Angelou , Momma (Annie Henderson)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

The strangeness for Maya of hearing anyone speak to Momma the way Dr. Lincoln does is marked first by the jarring “Annie” he calls her by. It is unfamiliar to Maya, and to the reader who has encountered mostly “Momma” for almost two hundred pages. The “Annie” captures how Dr. Lincoln sees Momma as inferior to him, as someone he has the right to call by her first name.

And then comes the brutal excuse, complete with racist epithet, that Dr. Lincoln offers for not treating Maya’s rotten teeth: he’d rather touch a dog’s mouth than a black person’s. Of course this is hurtful language, for Momma and especially for Maya, but the real tragedy is that this type of speech is culturally sanctioned; and so any white public figure, like a dentist, can openly abuse black people without any consequences, and can do so in “legal” language and refer to their own racism as a kind of “policy.” The black people being abused meanwhile, have to simply take the abuse or risk death for any sort of self-defense.


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Dr. Lincoln Character Timeline in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The timeline below shows where the character Dr. Lincoln appears in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 24
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
...the back of a dentist’s office and knocks on the back door, asking to see Dr. Lincoln. (full context)
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Dr. Lincoln emerges. Momma explains that Marguerite has two rotten teeth and needs them pulled by a... (full context)