I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Maya Angelou

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

The summer picnic 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 to find peace and privacy. There she is joined by Louise Kendricks. At first Marguerite is irked at the disturbance but soon discovers that Louise is thoughtful and honest and willing to play with her. They play a dizzying game together where they both spin and look up at the sky. It makes them both laugh hysterically, and Marguerite knows she has made her first friend.
Marguerite’s “first friend” is Louise, who impresses Marguerite with her honesty and playfulness. Marguerite begins to build a semblance of a normal social life. This scene of innocent child’s play reminds us that throughout all that she has endured, Marguerite is still just a young girl.
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That winter, Marguerite receives a love note from Tommy Valdon, who is asking her to be his valentine. Marguerite decides she must ask Louise about this—Louise explains that it is a love note, and asks Marguerite if she loves Tommy. The word love reminds Marguerite of Mr. Freeman and she says she does not love Tommy. Together she and Louise tear up the note and let the pieces blow away in the wind.
Note the contrast between the subject matter of this scene—Marguerite’s assault, guilt, and shame—and the innocent playfulness of the previous scene. Marguerite’s experiences have distorted her perspective on love: a heartfelt love note reminds her of her rapist.
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Two days later Marguerite receives another note from Tommy. He says he’d seen her tearing up his last note, and doesn’t believe she meant to hurt him. He still wants her to be his valentine. Marguerite is reassured by his patience and his undemanding tone. She becomes enamored of him, and cannot keep from giggling anytime she sees him.
Tommy shows Marguerite that real love should not include fear or violence. Marguerite’s crush on Tommy shows her resilience and her ability to still feel affection for others despite the emotional and physical pain she has endured.
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