I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Maya Angelou

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Marguerite loves the store—it is her favorite place to be as a child. She is intelligent, and deft with weighing out quantities and making calculations at the register. In evenings at the store, after a long days work, Uncle Willie doesn’t stutter or shake like he does during the day. Marguerite believes those evenings are an assurance that the “covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect.”
The store is perhaps the closest thing to “home” that Marguerite has. It is a place where people congregate, where Marguerite is capable and comfortable. It even conveys to her a kind of spiritual security—she sees in the store evidence of God’s covenant with the meek and downtrodden.
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One such evening the sheriff comes to visit them, casually telling them that a black man had “messed with” a white woman today. He, with a condescending kind of benevolence, tells Momma she better hide Willie, because “the boys” would be in town tonight. “The boys” are actually the Ku Klux Klan. Marguerite is filled with loathing for the sheriff, who rides away jauntily as though he has done a good deed. Momma hides Uncle Willie in a bin of onions and potatoes. Marguerite reflects that it is lucky the Klansmen didn’t ride to their house that night, for they would have found Uncle Willie and lynched him.
The Sheriff’s condescending benevolence, and his especially awful habit of calling a murderous group of white supremacists “the boys,” is a painful reminder that Stamps can never really be home. The store has gone from seeming like a kind of sanctuary in the previous chapter to being a shoddy hiding place for Willie, who is apt to be punished for the (rumored) actions of other blacks because he is not only black, but crippled.
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