Maya decides that she can’t stay at home all day with nothing to do over winter vacation. She wants to get a job. She becomes determined to be a streetcar conductor, even though no black person has ever worked on the streetcar before. She set her sights on this work, however, and tells intelligent lies to her interviewers about her past experience. She is granted a job as the first black person ever hired on the San Francisco streetcars.
Here we see Maya’s strongest resistance to racial discrimination and segregation. She does not play by the rules (she lies) because the rules have never allowed her to play at all. Her success is a testament to her intellectual maturity and her determination in the face of obstacles.
When Maya’s high school classes resume in the spring at California Labor School, Maya becomes disenchanted with education—she feels she has nothing in common with her classmates; that her strange experiences have set her apart and made her “aware.” Maya believes she knows more about the way the world works than they do. She cannot tolerate the frivolity of student life. Maya reflects that the emergence of strong and defiant Black American Women is often met with disdain or discomfort or surprise. But she believes it is the inevitable outcome of a long and difficult struggle, and should be treated with respect, if not enthusiastic acceptance.
Maya retrospectively identifies herself as a “strong black woman.” She notes that defiance in black women is often met with fear and frustration, but Angelou’s story has shown that defiance in black women is inevitable—their struggle naturally makes them defiant. Maya has grown from an insecure black child in the South to an intellectual black woman blazing trails in a northern city in California—her defiance has been an integral part of her growth.