I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Maya Angelou

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

The family—Momma, Bailey, Marguerite, and Uncle Willy—attends a revivalist meeting—no one ever misses the revivalist meeting, and every congregation is represented. The preacher’s sermon is about how the meek and the poor and the downtrodden will make it to heaven. It is a thinly veiled criticism of white affluence, and an affirmation that after many years of suffering black people will at last be rewarded in the afterlife. Marguerite can see the satisfaction and delight on the worshipers’ faces—they take so much comfort in knowing that white people would one day get their comeuppance. “They basked in the righteousness of the poor and the exclusiveness of the downtrodden.” Marguerite can see them thinking “let them have their whiteness” for they know that it is better to be poor and downtrodden in this life than to burn in hell for eternity. The chapter ends with Maya wondering “how long” until black people in America find justice and peace.
Angelou’s description of the worshipers contains a note of criticism—their fervor seems like zealotry, and their solution (to wait for deliverance in the afterlife) seems somehow lacking. The meeting fosters “righteousness and exclusiveness”—but only because they live in a world where they are victimized by the righteousness and exclusiveness of institutionalized racism. Their faith, even if it is not the best solution, in many ways seems like the only solution available to this generation of black southerners.
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