I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Maya Angelou

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Bailey, an adolescent now, begins “playing house” with other girls around his age (11 years old) in a makeshift 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 them removes their clothes and Bailey simply wiggles his hips on top of theirs. One day he invites a new girl, Joyce, into his tent, and she tells him he is doing it wrong. Marguerite tries to stop them, for she knows what Joyce intends and doesn’t want Bailey to go through that, but Joyce sends Marguerite away.
Bailey, too, is beginning to experiment with sex, romance, and affection. He has never had sex before, and clearly does not fully understand how sex works. Marguerite is not made uncomfortable until she overhears Joyce trying to have actual intercourse with Bailey. Having been raped as a child, Marguerite knows the pain that forced sex entails and wants to save her brother from an experience that she believes will be traumatic.
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Later Bailey proudly tells Marguerite that Joyce has hair between her legs and under her arms because of how many boys she’d been with. Joyce is four years older than Bailey, and it becomes clear that she is Bailey’s first love. She hangs around for a few months, then suddenly disappears. She runs away with a much older man. Bailey is clearly heartbroken, but won’t talk about it to Marguerite or anyone else.
Bailey’s introduction to sex and romance is another example of displacement: he falls for a slightly older and more experienced girl who leaves him to be with a much older man. This hurts Bailey especially deeply because, as a black boy, he knows all too well the pain of leaving and being left.
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