The memoir explores the complexity of familial bonds and the importance of family to a person’s experiences and identity. Maya and Bailey’s relationship is in many ways at the center of the book. Young Marguerite loves her brother so dearly and trusts him so implicitly that she confides in him first about her attack. The children often have to cope with feelings of abandonment since they were sent away by their parents to live with their grandmother at a young age, and are sent away again after Marguerite’s attack. Marguerite in particular—who bears no physical resemblance to her mother or father—wonders if her parents are in fact related to her. When Mr. Freeman assaults Marguerite for the first time, she is uncomfortable and confused but so desiring of parental affection that she interprets his actions as tenderness, and wonders if Mr. Freeman is her real father. Marguerite also learns to form familial bonds outside of her own biological family. Mrs. Flowers’ mentorship of Marguerite is another huge source of comfort and support.
The picture of family ties described by this memoir is a complicated one: family can be a source of rejection, confusion and pain, but is also an indispensable source of love and support.
Family Quotes in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
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.
When I was described by our playmates as being shit color, he was lauded for his velvet-black skin…And yet he loved me.
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.
He held me so softly I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go. I felt at home.
The Black woman in the south who raises sons, grandsons, and nephews had her heartstrings tied to a hanging noose.
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.
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.
“Annie, my policy is I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s”
The Black man, the con man who could act the most stupid, won out every time against the powerful, arrogant white.
I patted my son’s body lightly and went back to sleep.