I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Bailey, Marguerite’s brother, is the “greatest person in her world.” Where Marguerite perceives herself to be ugly and awkward, Bailey is a beautiful boy, with velvety black skin that earns him many compliments. Marguerite’s playmates often describe her as being “shit color.” Bailey protects Marguerite and punishes those who make fun of her looks. Bailey is Marguerite’s “kingdom come”—he is an important source of hope and reassurance in a difficult childhood.
The color of a Black person’s skin doesn’t only matter to white people—there is a complex hierarchy present in Marguerite’s community based on different kinds of black skin tones. Marguerite feels that, on top of being black, she is the wrong shade of black. Fortunately she has her brother, whom she thinks of as her salvation. Notice how Marguerite uses religious language when describing things outside of the church: her spirituality is important to her, but her religion is non-traditional.
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Segregation in Stamps is so complete that black children aren’t even very aware of the existence of white people. They do know, though, that white people are powerful and dangerous and associated with feelings of dread. Maya can remember not really believing white people were real. She thinks they can’t be real—their skin is too white and almost transparent; they walk on their heels “like horses.” They are a strange kind of “alien unlife;” they are not folks, they are whitefolks.
By recording her honest thoughts about white people as a child in the segregated south, Angelou offers us a perspective centered on black experience, where white people are “alien” and strange, a reversal of the typical portrayal of minorities as the “strange” outsiders. This perspective is one of the reasons her memoir is so important and unique.
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