I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Maya Angelou Character Analysis

Maya Angelou is the narrator of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and the memoir tracks her life from the early years of her childhood, when she was called Marguerite Johnson. Maya has always been a smart, inquisitive person with a passion for spoken and written language. She tells the story of how racial and sexual discrimination and violence shaped her childhood and young adulthood. These experiences come to incite and inform her interest in literary studies; in many ways I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the story of how and why Angelou became a poet.

Maya Angelou Quotes in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings quotes below are all either spoken by Maya Angelou or refer to Maya Angelou . 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.
Prologue Quotes

If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

In the conclusion to her vividly imagined prologue, Angelou highllights the pain and displacement that shape much of the book. She takes as her premise the pain of growing up as a “Southern Black girl,” making it clear that she’ll be focusing on three core parts of her identity as a writer and as a character within her own autobiographical fiction: her Southernness, her Blackness, and her gender.

Further, Angelou concludes, it is the Southern Black girl’s awareness of her displacement that makes this pain not only sharp but maybe even dangerous. Angelou’s book looks closely at all sorts of regional, racialized, and gendered traumas; with this in mind, we might see this quotation as a statement of purpose for her book. But the rusted knife of pain and displacement is only the starting point for Angelou, and the book proceeds in a life-giving direction too.

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Chapter 3 Quotes

It seemed that the peace of day’s ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes, and the crippled was still in effect.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Uncle Willie
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Angelou’s exploration of the Black community’s rhythms of daily life in Stamps, shaped by their visits to her grandmother’s store and their difficult days of manual labor, describes early morning and nighttime as periods of rest so deeply needed that they might be sacred. At the same time, though, Angelou writes with definite sarcasm; the grouping of “children, Negroes, and the crippled” highlights the ridiculousness of the pairing in the first place – the equating of black people with children and cripples – and in so doing shows how such a grouping emerges from white paternalism (and not from Angelou’s God himself).

Throughout the book, Angelou suggests that the white community’s stereotypes of black people (often referred to as Negroes here) are both true and not. When they are true, they’re usually true for the wrong reasons. The Black community in Stamps holds sacred these periods of evening rest, but not because of any connection between black people and children or cripples.

Chapter 4 Quotes

When I was described by our playmates as being shit color, he was lauded for his velvet-black skin…And yet he loved me.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Bailey Johnson
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

The brother-sister relationship between Maya and Bailey is central to this book. In other contexts a passage like this might signal jealousy on Maya’s part; she is treated poorly for her tone of black skin, and Bailey is “lauded” for it. But here, amidst all of Maya’s admiration for and amazement at her brother Bailey, there is little room for jealousy. Angelou uses two very different but equally powerful descriptors for their blackness: “shit color” for her, and “velvet-black” for Bailey.

In these descriptions Angelou unflinchingly takes on the language of her detractors, forcing the reader to feel some of the pain Maya might be feeling. Interestingly, at the end of this passage, Angelou writes: “And yet he loved me.” We might expect it to be the other way around: even though Maya is made fun of for her skin color and Bailey admired or his, she is able to forgive him and love him, and so on. But the fact that Maya feels the need to earn Bailey’s love despite her supposedly “shit color” skin shows us how deep the child Maya’s shame runs.

In Stamps the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like. Other than that they were different, to be dreaded.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Segregation is one of the most powerful, and more disturbing, political realities both of the world Angelou lived in and the world she creates in this book. The line drawn between white and black people in Stamps is not only culturally but physically defined— the white side of town is like an unknown world to the black children. Angelou capitalizes “Black children” and leaves “whites” lowercase, making it clear that black identity is something to be proud of; the lowercase “whites” makes those people anonymous, unknown.

This book’s main characters are also children throughout most of it, and their childhood wonder is evoked in lines like “most Black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like.” There is a desire to know, in Maya and the other children, but the segregated set-up of Stamps and the south makes it extremely difficult to know “the other.”

Chapter 7 Quotes

Momma intended to teach Bailey and me to use the paths of life she and her generation and all the Negroes gone before had found, and found to be safe ones.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Bailey Johnson, Momma (Annie Henderson)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In reading this passage, it helps to have a sense of how ardently Maya Angelou worked, throughout her career, to tell new types of stories about blackness and being black in the United States. This quotation clearly emerges in retrospect, as Angelou reflects on the ways Momma held her and Bailey within the safe confines of relative black success as sanctioned by white society. In this passage we find both sympathy for Momma’s beliefs and a real desire to surpass them, to live radically outside of what could be considered “safe” because it wouldn’t offend any of the power-holding white people on the other side of Stamps and the other side of the country.

Momma wants Maya and Bailey to pray diligently, work hard, respect authority; mostly she wants them to keep their heads down. Angelou ends up doing the opposite, of course, writing and publishing a book about her life in Stamps and beyond. So, in many ways, this book is both an affirmation of Momma’s ways (which are described in detail, with respect for the necessity of survival in a world very dangerous to black women) and a piece of tangible evidence that Angelou has exceeded the bounds placed around her.

Chapter 11 Quotes

He held me so softly I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go. I felt at home.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Mr. Freeman
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

In the midst of being sexually assaulted by Mr. Freeman, Maya finds peace in the sensation of being held by him. This is one of the most vivid and disturbing sequences in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, and Maya’s utter confusion about what is happening to Mr. Freeman’s body and what he might be doing to her is captured most effectively in this moment. Mr. Freeman has just finished masturbating against Maya’s body, and knowing this the reader cannot help but wince at the intimacy of their embrace. But Maya, who has not yet connected the wetness in the bed to Mr. Freeman’s anatomy, is comforted simply by his close physical presence.

Throughout the early chapters of this book, we can feel Maya searching for intimacy from adults— this makes sense given that her story begins with her and Bailey’s abandonment by their parents. Maya feels “at home” when Mr. Freeman holds her. And so with characters like Mr. Freeman and Mrs. Flowers Maya seems to be searching deeply for someone to hold her, emotionally or physically. The trouble comes when an adult— in this case Mr. Freeman— capitalizes on Maya’s earnest wish for closeness by causing her harm.

Chapter 15 Quotes

It would be safe to say that she made me proud to be a Negro, just by being herself.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Mrs. Bertha Flowers
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

As she did with Mr. Freeman (to disastrous effect), Maya looks to Mrs. Flowers for an adult ally. However, the relationship she develops with Mrs. Flowers is positive, and formative in spurring Maya’s fascination with reading and writing. Mrs. Flowers also, as Angelou suggests here, is a living denial of the stereotypes Maya struggles against as a black girl. Educated, dignified, elegant: Mrs. Flowers is everything the white people say black women cannot be. Thus she makes Maya “proud” simply by existing, by providing a vital counterexample in Maya’s youth to the stereotyped image of blackness and femininity promoted in Stamps and the rest of the segregated South.

Chapter 17 Quotes

The Black woman in the south who raises sons, grandsons, and nephews had her heartstrings tied to a hanging noose.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Bailey Johnson, Momma (Annie Henderson)
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this startling passage, Angelou ties the common imagery of “heartstrings” to the uniquely black horror of the “hanging noose.” This shift from a universal image to a very particular one conveys the specificity of Angelou’s claim: it is the southern black woman— and these are the three core aspects of Maya’s political reality— who feels this unique pain of knowing that her son, grandson, and nephew could be killed for just about any sort of infraction, legitimate or not, like Bailey’s failure to return home by sundown. Black men are in unique danger, which puts their family members in a unique state of fear. It is tragic then, in a way, to be a black woman— bound to fear most deeply for the ones she loves.

I laughed because, except that she was white, the big movie star looked just like my mother…and it was funny to think of the whitefolks’ not knowing that.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Mother (Vivien Baxter)
Page Number: 118-119
Explanation and Analysis:

Inspired by Bailey’s earlier insistence that a white actress in a movie he sees looks exactly like their mother, Maya sees the actress in another film a few months later. This is one of a few moments in this book when humor (and sometimes laughter) takes over— and, like the moment in church when Maya cannot control her laughter, this one is caused by something Bailey says. Her brother is one of the great sources of humor in her youth, and here it is funny because Bailey ends up spot-on about the resemblance between their mother and the white actress.

To Maya, it is hilarious to think that the “whitefolks” could “not know” something as shocking as the fact that a black woman (and a non-famous one at that) could look as good as a famous white actress. Humor and interior monologue often give Maya a way break from the way other people see her and her blackness and see things in a radically new way; in this case, the realization isn’t so much that black women can be beautiful, but that white people either don’t know how beautiful they can be or won’t acknowledge it. Put another way, Maya has discovered how white people’s own arrogance can make them blind and be a kind of weakness.

Chapter 18 Quotes

Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly—mostly—let them have their whiteness. It was better to be meek and lowly…than to spend eternity frying in the fires of hell.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

This is Maya’s elaborate way of telling the world she is forced to live in to “go to hell”— a brief moment of ironic distancing from her world as respite from the exhaustion of constantly noticing everything in it. Maya’s list of things that whitefolks can keep— money, power, segregation, sarcasm, etc.— combines tangible things with cultural and emotional realities. By pairing these two types of things, for example segregation and sarcasm, Angelou creates a comic effect while making a real point. She ends on “whiteness,” the thing she least wants white people to give to her.

“Whiteness” refers not only to the color of their skin, but also to the collection of ideas attached by stereotype to the white person— respectability, money, power, and so on. In fact, whiteness in Maya’s view is really just the amalgamation of all the things she has already mentioned letting white people keep. Angelou adopts the archaic language of the whitefolks’ racist conception of black people (“meek and lowly”) in her own sarcastic turn of phrase. If black people are “meek and lowly,” Angelou concludes in the same Biblical register, white people will “spend eternity frying in the fires of hell.”

Chapter 19 Quotes

“It looks like Joe Louis is going down.” My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped. A Black boy whipped and maimed. It was hounds on the trail of a man running through the slimy swamps. It was a white woman slapping her maid for being forgetful.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Joe Louis, one of the most famous and successful black boxers, seems likely to lose the heavyweight championship while everyone listens on the radio in Momma’s store. Angelou captures the tragedy of another loss for black society by putting Louis’ defeat in the same category as the terrible (and terribly violent) things black people had to live through in the segregated South. All sorts of racial violence, like the violence of Louis’ boxing defeat, are evoked here: lynching, ambush, rape, whipping, the chasing of slaves, the abuse of black servants. Louis’ loss is a huge disappointment for “my race,” Angelou tells us. It is another invalidation, another form of violence to the spirit.

It wouldn’t do for a Black man and his family to be caught on a lonely country road on a night when Joe Louis has proved that we were the strongest people in the world.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

When Joe Louis finally does win, it is a victory for the black community tainted by the fear that any form of celebration over Louis’ win could bring about retaliatory violence in the southern white community. Angelou elucidates some of the symbolism behind Louis’ victory, the reason it would have been so devastating— a groan for Angelou’s entire race— had Louis lost: his victory was to prove that black people were the strongest in the world. Louis, somehow able to bear the weight of this task, demonstrates at least in Maya’s eyes that blackness and success would have to be recognized as compatible by the white community. Admitting this would be scary for a society so bent on proving the inferiority of black people, hence the threat of violence against anyone celebrating Louis’ big win.

Chapter 23 Quotes

The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gauguins, and our boys (the girls weren’t even in on it) would try to be Jesse Owenses and Joe Louises.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Edward Donleavy
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

In another adeptly crafted and very funny passage turning cultural assumptions about blackness and womanhood on their heads, Angelou shows us how her racial shame could be triggered at any moment— even a celebratory one, like at her eighth-grade graduation. Mr. Donleavy, the white speaker from Arkansas, encourages the black boys at Maya’s school to take as their models Jesse Owens and Joe Louis (Owens was a four-time Olympic gold medalist runner, and Louis a world champion boxer).

Not only is it disappointing that Donleavy mentions nothing of the black girls, but as Maya notices these are not the same role models Donleavy would probably mention at a white graduation. In white culture, we’d expect to hear about great scientists like Galileo or Madame Curie, or great artists like the painter Gauguin, at most eighth-grade graduations. So Donleavy’s intrusion on black Alabama is further marked by his failure to encourage black boys to be anything besides good athletes (which implies his belief that black boys can’t hope to have good minds), and his failure to even acknowledge the future possibilities of black girls (implying his belief that black girls have nothing of importance to offer at all).

We were on top again. As always, again. We survived. The depths had been icy and dark, but now a bright sun spoke to our souls.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Henry Reed
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Having reacted bitterly to the irony of her classmate Henry’s “To Be or Not To Be,” Maya is— like the rest of the audience at her eighth-grade graduation— pleasantly surprised when Henry sings the Black National Anthem. The scene explodes with singing, like the black church Momma takes Maya to, and this vocalization of her community’s unity and solidarity quickly makes them forget Mr. Donleavy’s unfortunate speech.

By one-upping Donleavy with song, instead of trying to out-speak him, Henry accesses a plane of connection with his audience utterly inaccessible to the aloof white educator. Maya feels this direct connection strongly, and like her interactions with Mrs. Flowers it makes her proud again to be black. Surviving— getting through the “icy and dark” depths— is impressive, and the struggle of surviving leaves a “bright sun” speaking to their souls.

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.

Chapter 25 Quotes

I wouldn’t miss Mrs. Flowers, for she had given me her secret world which called forth a djinn who was to serve me all my life: books.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Mrs. Bertha Flowers
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

In this crucial passage, Maya registers one of the main reasons she loves books and feels grateful toward Mrs. Flowers for imparting her love of reading. Books, Maya, realizes, can be taken anywhere; they are not dependent on the physical or emotional closeness of anyone else, and offer an indirect but always accessible form of communication between reader and writer. The same is true, in a way, between the different readers of the same book. If Maya reads a book she learned about from Mrs. Flowers, she might feel again like she’s spending time with her black woman role model. It is no simple hobby Mrs. Flowers has shown Maya, but a “secret world which called forth a djinn”— in other words, Mrs. Flowers has given Maya not just a transient human connection, but a lifelong passion and a kind of magic that gives her a new way to sustain herself and engage with the world.

Chapter 27 Quotes

The Japanese were not whitefolks…since they didn’t have to be feared, neither did they have to be considered.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the few moments in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings when Angelou analyzes the status of a United States ethnic minority besides black people, we sense that the younger Maya isn’t quite sure how to process a group of people that is neither black nor white, neither us nor them. Her analysis is interesting because it is fear of other people, in her mind, that warrants consideration of them. One tragedy of Maya’s childhood is that she must always consider things in order to avoid violence, racial or otherwise; so it makes sense, in a way, that she’s not using much energy to consider people she needn’t fear.

Chapter 28 Quotes

Miss Kirwin never seemed to notice that I was Black and therefore different.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Mrs. Kirwin
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

Maya’s departure from Stamps and arrival in San Francisco mark one of the book’s biggest turning points, and for the reader closely following Maya through her childhood it’s hard not to wonder what her experience will be at her new school—especially given how much of a child’s life takes place at school during her student years. Strangely, in this alien world to the west, Maya’s teacher “never seemed to notice” her skin color, and treats Maya like all of her other students.

One of the unfortunate ironies of this passage is that, as Angelou seems to hint, all students probably should have gotten this sort of equal treatment in the first place. Thus Miss Kirwin’s treatment of Maya is both special and not at all; it is special to Maya, who has never met a teacher like Miss Kirwin, but really it is the bare minimum a teacher could do in an ideal (or even a relatively decent) society.

Chapter 29 Quotes

The Black man, the con man who could act the most stupid, won out every time against the powerful, arrogant white.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker), Daddy Clidell
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

As we’ve seen her do before in this book, Angelou turns assumptions about whiteness and blackness on their heads so that they become something of an advantage for black people (who otherwise suffer under these stereotypes). Whether or not Angelou thinks a con man’s success is a real victory, the point remains the same: if you’re going to label us with this set of identities, we’ll find a way to make them work better than yours.

This pertains also to the major victory of Joe Louis earlier in the book; Louis, carrying all the stereotypes of black male violence and bestiality, turns them into boxing glory. With that in mind, note that the black man described in this quotation is only acting stupid and that, when it comes to white people, power and arrogance are lined up next to each other as their defining traits. The black con man uses white power and arrogance to benefit himself.

Chapter 34 Quotes

The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste, and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

There’s a standard novel formation called the bildungsroman in which a young character (usually a white male) grows up and goes out into the world seeking to do or achieve something. In this passage, and really throughout the book, Angelou makes it clear that in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings she’s writing her own “American Negro female” sort of bildungsroman. Because the black woman’s development of a “formidable character” is far from the standard narrative promoted by Angelou’s society, it is shocking and even “distasteful” to people in more privileged positions.

Yet, as Angelou says, it is the standard narrative, the “inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors.” If you can make it through an “American Negro female” youth and early adulthood, Angelou suggests, you’re bound to end up formidable. The word “struggle”is one possible summary of what Angelou has written about to this point, but in a sense it is inadequate; so the whole book has, in a way, elucidated this struggle and prepared us for this big statement, one of Angelou’s more politically clear pronouncements throughout her book.

Chapter 36 Quotes

I patted my son’s body lightly and went back to sleep.

Related Characters: Maya Angelou (speaker)
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the very last line of the book. It is both a pleasant, life-affirming image to end on, and also something more than that. Maya’s soft pat of her son contrasts sharply with the many forms of violence inflicted on her body throughout the novel, from the way Momma beats her for minor infractions to the jarring acts of sexual abuse and rape committed by Mr. Freeman. It is a form of bodily contact that conveys not fear or pain but closeness, kindness, care, and love. It is also a comforting gesture toward her child, of the type we might have wished for Maya as we read our way through her own childhood.

Without being too heavy-handed or at all sentimental, Angelou’s last line suggests that Maya— her character and perhaps. at the same time, herself— is at least somewhat settled in her life. She has a son, seems good at taking care of him, and drifts off to sleep, offering a natural close to the novel that tracks her circadian rhythms and reminds us of the daily rhythms of her black community back in Stamps, showing up at Momma’s store before spending another day at work in the fields. That Maya is able to sleep, and tells us so, signals that she is relatively comfortable and at ease in this life she describes so vividly. Readers, like Maya herself, can breathe a bit easier for Maya after reliving her struggle with her, and look to the future with hope.

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Maya Angelou Character Timeline in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The timeline below shows where the character Maya Angelou appears in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
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The prologue tells a story about Marguerite in church on Easter, performing in a play. She is wearing a dress that she’d... (full context)
Chapter 1
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Marguerite and her brother Bailey arrive in Stamps, Arkansas when Marguerite is three and Bailey is... (full context)
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Marguerite and Bailey’s grandmother, whom they call Momma, has owned a store for 25 years. The... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...he is especially dark skinned and crippled, and is victimized by both blacks and whites. Marguerite can only remember one time where Willie, usually sensitive and honest, pretended not to be... (full context)
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During these early years in Stamps, Marguerite “met and fell in love with William Shakespeare.” She feels as though Shakespeare understands her,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Marguerite loves the store—it is her favorite place to be as a child. She is intelligent,... (full context)
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...“the boys” would be in town tonight. “The boys” are actually the Ku Klux Klan. Marguerite is filled with loathing for the sheriff, who rides away jauntily as though he has... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Bailey, Marguerite’s brother, is the “greatest person in her world.” Where Marguerite perceives herself to be ugly... (full context)
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...know, though, that white people are powerful and dangerous and associated with feelings of dread. Maya can remember not really believing white people were real. She thinks they can’t be real—their... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...follows certain rules of decorum, except for “powhitetrash” children, who behave in ways that astound Marguerite. They are unkempt and dirty, and they call Uncle Willie by his first name even... (full context)
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...a degrading kind of monkey dance. Momma keeps singing. They call her Annie, which makes Marguerite furious. One of the girls does a handstand in her dress, and her skirts come... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...Reverend often comes to visit Momma at the house, and she always welcomes him, but Marguerite hates him. She doesn’t know why exactly—she just hates him in the irrational way that... (full context)
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...seat, evades the ushers, and pursues the Reverend again. Bailey keeps whispering “preach it!” to Marguerite, and she can barely contain her laughter. Sister Monroe finally reaches the Reverend, and in... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Marguerite sees Momma as one of the strongest and most powerful people in Stamps. She was... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...differences between blacks and whites in Stamps regards how each group elects to spend money. Marguerite perceives whites to live grotesquely lavish lives—blacks do not tend to spend money on readymade... (full context)
Chapter 9
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One year later, when Marguerite is seven years old, Daddy Bailey comes to town. He is a huge, exceptionally handsome... (full context)
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...Vivien, the children are blown away. She is light skinned (“butter colored”) and wears lipstick. Marguerite thinks she is too beautiful to be a mother, and Marguerite bitterly notes that she... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...by the fact that the schools in St. Louis are full of relatively uneducated children. Marguerite and Bailey knew how to count because of their work on the register, and they... (full context)
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One of their mother’s brothers tells Marguerite one day that it doesn’t matter if she isn’t pretty, because she is smart. He... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Marguerite begins sleeping in her mother’s bed because of nightmares. One morning she wakes up after... (full context)
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...tells her that if she ever tells anyone what just happened, he will kill Bailey. Marguerite is frightened, and struggles to understand but agrees to keep the incident a secret from... (full context)
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After a while Marguerite becomes lonesome, and longs to be held gently again. One evening she sits on Mr.... (full context)
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Marguerite starts to spend more and more time at the library—books are a refuge for her.... (full context)
Chapter 12
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One afternoon when Vivien and Bailey are out for the day, Mr. Freeman calls Marguerite over to him. She resists—she has found happiness in the library and doesn’t feel she... (full context)
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Marguerite wanders to the library but finds the seats are too hard and painful for her... (full context)
Chapter 13
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In the hospital Marguerite says if she tells who attacked her, Bailey will be killed. Bailey tells Marguerite no... (full context)
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...outside town. It is likely that Vivien’s brothers killed him. Meanwhile, Vivien also decides that Marguerite and Bailey would be better off in Stamps. Marguerite becomes withdrawn and sullen, and believes... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Momma and Willie treat Marguerite gently upon her return from St. Louis. She wanders about Stamps almost in a daze.... (full context)
Chapter 15
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After a difficult year, in which Marguerite becomes more and more withdrawn, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, a neighbor whom Marguerite has always admired,... (full context)
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After this visit, Marguerite comes home and tells Bailey all about it. Then she says “By the way,” and... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Momma decides that Marguerite should learn refined manners, and therefore sends Marguerite to work as a servant in a... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...away from his mother yet again, doesn’t come back from the movies before sun down. Maya, as narrator of the memoir, explains that to be the caretaker of a black boy... (full context)
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Later Bailey explains to Marguerite that he’d seen Mother at the movies—a white actress that looked exactly like Vivien was... (full context)
Chapter 18
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The family—Momma, Bailey, Marguerite, and Uncle Willy—attends a revivalist meeting—no one ever misses the revivalist meeting, and every congregation... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...is one of the most well attended community events of the year. However, during it, Marguerite grows weary of the crowds of children, and goes into a small grove of trees... (full context)
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That winter, Marguerite receives a love note from Tommy Valdon, who is asking her to be his valentine.... (full context)
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Two days later Marguerite receives another note from Tommy. He says he’d seen her tearing up his last note,... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...tent in the backyard. During these sessions, he brings a girl into the tent, instructs Marguerite to keep watch, and then imitates sex with the girl. It is innocent enough—neither of... (full context)
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Later Bailey proudly tells Marguerite that Joyce has hair between her legs and under her arms because of how many... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Marguerite hates ghost stories and desperately wishes Mr. Taylor would stop talking. She remembers Mrs. Taylor’s... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Marguerite is graduating from the eighth grade. It is a very special occasion, and she enjoys... (full context)
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...or Jesse Owens but says nothing of academic achievement or of possibilities for girls. As Maya Angelou describes it: “The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos... (full context)
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Next the valedictorian of Marguerite’s class, a boy named Henry, speaks. He delivers a carefully prepared speech called “To Be... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Marguerite’s love for sweets has finally taken its toll—she has two horrible cavities and the pain... (full context)
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Dr. Lincoln emerges. Momma explains that Marguerite has two rotten teeth and needs them pulled by a dentist. Dr. Lincoln, choosing his... (full context)
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Momma and Marguerite catch a Greyhound to Texarkana where they can see a dentist for blacks. Momma is... (full context)
Chapter 25
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One day Momma tells the children it is time for them to move to California. Marguerite is fairly certain this decision came about because of an incident involving Bailey. He had... (full context)
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Momma has to organize the transportation. She will ride with Marguerite on the train about a month ahead of Bailey, so as to spread out the... (full context)
Chapter 26
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Momma and Marguerite and Bailey live in Los Angeles together while the children adjust to life in California.... (full context)
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Bailey and Marguerite drive to San Francisco with their mother (Vivien). They live in a dingy Oakland apartment.... (full context)
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Marguerite hears that America has declared war on Japan when she is walking home from the... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Marguerite attends an integrated high school, where she is one of only three black students. Here... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...Clidell is a wily con artist who uses white people’s prejudice against them. He teaches Marguerite how to play cards and tells her stories of how he and his associates play... (full context)
Chapter 30
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Marguerite goes to visit Daddy Bailey in southern California, where she meets his live-in girlfriend Dolores... (full context)
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One night Marguerite goes with her father to a fiesta across the border in Mexico with several of... (full context)
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...world, until she crashes into another vehicle. At first the police officers are suspicious of Marguerite, but when they understand the situation, are sympathetic. During the commotion Big Bailey comes to,... (full context)
Chapter 31
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That night, Marguerite feels bad for Dolores when she comes home. Dolores had waited all night for Big... (full context)
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Marguerite is bleeding from her side, and when her father sees her, she explains (with some... (full context)
Chapter 32
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Maya (who begins to identify herself as such—this new name comes from a nickname Bailey gave... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...each other away only to apologize and reestablish good relations and restart the whole process. Maya knows that eventually Bailey will leave, and one night she overhears a great fight during... (full context)
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Bailey moves to a motel. After a while, Maya goes to visit Bailey in his dingy motel room to offer him support. He insists... (full context)
Chapter 34
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Maya decides that she can’t stay at home all day with nothing to do over winter... (full context)
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When Maya’s high school classes resume in the spring at California Labor School, Maya becomes disenchanted with... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Maya, as it typical of a teenage girl, becomes interested in sex and sexuality. One night... (full context)
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However, some weeks later, Maya has a friend sleep over and catches sight of her breasts while she is changing.... (full context)
Chapter 36
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Maya hides her pregnancy from everyone, though she avoids lying outright about it. Though her body... (full context)
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...be okay, and buy her maternity clothes. Three months later, after a rather easy labor, Maya’s son is born. She is terrified to touch him, afraid she will hurt him. After... (full context)