The Reverend often comes to visit Momma at the house, and she always welcomes him, but Marguerite hates him. She doesn’t know why exactly—she just hates him in the irrational way that children sometimes hate certain adults. One day in church the Reverend reads from Deuteronomy, and Marguerite is conflicted—she hates the sound of the Reverend’s voice, but she loves Deuteronomy; it is her favorite book in the Bible because it lays down the rules most clearly.
Marguerite is disdainful of the church—we have already seen that her faith is non-traditional. But her love of Deuteronomy is telling; Marguerite wants to know the rules. She wants to understand what she must do in order to make it to heaven. This desire for belonging, for knowledge and comfort in her surroundings, shows how eager she is to feel accepted somewhere.
There is a woman in church called Sister Monroe who cannot make it to every service, and seems to make up for her absences by shouting harder than anyone. In this particular Sunday she becomes so enraptured by the Reverend’s words that she yells at him to “preach it!” over and over, even going so far as to chase him around the pulpit, yelling. Others begin to pursue her to try and restrain her, and the result is all of them taking a big fall off the stage area. Sister Monroe rises calmly and thanks the Lord for she has come to Jesus.
Sister Monroe is a rare source of humor and levity in a very difficult story. The humor here also highlights that Angelou—though raised in a staunchly religious community like Stamps—has a sense of humor about religion. She understands its importance to her community, but she also is capable of taking it lightly.
The next Sunday Sister Monroe is back. The ushers set up near her, ready to restrain her again should she become overzealous again. She begins to shout “preach it!” then rises from her seat, evades the ushers, and pursues the Reverend again. Bailey keeps whispering “preach it!” to Marguerite, and she can barely contain her laughter. Sister Monroe finally reaches the Reverend, and in a moment of frenzied passions whacks him over the head with her purse. The Reverend’s dentures fall out of his mouth onto the floor. Marguerite cannot contain herself and she and Bailey fall to the floor laughing. Afterwards Uncle Willie gives them the whipping of their lives, and from then on anytime Bailey whispers “preach it!” to her she hits him as hard as she can.
Having a sense of humor about religious worship was not well received in Stamps. Sister Monroe’s behavior lends itself to a hilarious scene. It is perfectly understandable that Marguerite should laugh after witnessing her antics. But her uncontrollable laughter leads to a brutal punishment. The lesson Marguerite learns is that it is unsafe to think funny thoughts about church—she hits Bailey every time he tries to make her laugh about the incident. Childhood traumas like these are always compounded by Marguerite’s race. She is not only young and struggling with the rules, like every other child: she is also black and struggling to survive.