I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Maya Angelou

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

After a difficult year, in which Marguerite becomes more and more withdrawn, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, a neighbor whom Marguerite has always admired, asks to see her. Marguerite walks with Mrs. Flowers to her house, where she has tea and cookies. Mrs. Flowers reads to Marguerite from A Tale of Two Cities. Maya remembers this as the moment she heard poetry for the first time. Mrs. Flowers gives her books of poems and teachers her how to read, understand, and memorize them. Marguerite feels that for the first time in her life she is liked—not because she is related to Bailey or Momma, but just because she is herself.
Marguerite finally finds a place where she can feel comfortable in her own skin. Here she is not defined by her familial relations, her race, her gender, or even her age. Mrs. Flowers respects and cultivates Marguerite’s intellect, and introduces her to poetry, a gift that will change Maya’s life for the better in a tremendous way.
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After this visit, Marguerite comes home and tells Bailey all about it. Then she says “By the way,” and tells Bailey Mrs. Flowers sent him some cookies. Momma comes into the room in a rage and whips Marguerite. Marguerite is utterly confused and doesn’t understand why she is being punished. She learns later that “By the way” is a shortened form of “By the way of God” and is therefore taking the Lord’s name in vain.
This scene describes the complicated relationship that Marguerite has with religion. Religion for her is in many ways a system of mysterious rules and confusing punishments. Though it brings some peace and stability to the lives of many adults in Stamps, for her religion is a source of fear and chaos.
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