Maya Angelou is the narrator of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and the memoir tracks her life from the early years of her childhood, when she was called Marguerite Johnson. Maya has… (read full character analysis)
Bailey is Maya’s older brother, with whom she has a special kind of familial bond. Bailey looks out for Marguerite when they are children, and Marguerite trusts him more than anyone. Bailey’s experiences growing… (read full character analysis)
Momma is Bailey and Maya’s paternal grandmother, who cares for them for most of their childhoods in Stamps, Arkansas. She is one of the only black storeowners in the area and deeply respected by… (read full character analysis)
Bailey and Maya’s mother is a beautiful light-skinned black woman who, according to Marguerite, looks just like a movie star. She is no longer with the children’s father, and dates other men over the course… (read full character analysis)
Dr. Lincoln is the white dentist in Stamps, Arkansas. Though Momma once lent him money to establish his practice, he refuses to return the favor by pulling Marguerite’s teeth when she has very painful cavities… (read full character analysis)
Uncle Willie is Bailey and Maya’s crippled Uncle, who lives with Momma in Arkansas. He is a quiet character, used to keeping a low profile for he is harassed not only for his blackness but also for his disability. He helps raise the children.
Big Bailey is Maya and Bailey’s father. He is a strikingly handsome, larger-than-life man whom Maya cares for but who never really seems like a true father to her. He lives in California.
Mrs. Bertha Flowers
Bertha Flowers takes Marguerite under her wing when Marguerite returns to Stamps, Arkansas after her assault. She teaches Marguerite how to read, write, and understand literature and poetry, and Maya considers her one of the reasons she became a poet.
Vivien’s boyfriend in San Francisco. Maya considers him a kind of father figure.
A white man who makes a condescending speech at Marguerite’s 8th grade graduation. He makes it clear that black boys can aspire to be athletes, but says nothing about black people succeeding in academics; he makes it clear to Marguerite that her brain is not worth anything.
The valedictorian of Marguerite’s 8th grade class, Henry makes his speech right after Edward Donleavy talks. He leads the audience in singing the “Black National Anthem,” or “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” and in doing so restores Marguerite’s faith in and love for her people.
Louise is Marguerite’s first real friend. Marguerite talks to her about young romance and plays pretend with her.
Joyce is Bailey’s first love. She initiates him into sex, boasting that she’s been intimate with many men before him. She breaks Bailey’s heart by running away with a much older man.
Big Bailey’s girlfriend in Los Angeles. Dolores is jealous of all the attention Marguerite gets.
Mr. and Mrs. Taylor
Mr. Taylor is an older neighbor of Momma in Stamps, Arkansas. Mr. Taylor believes that Mrs. Taylor’s ghost appeared to him after she died. Mrs. Taylor’s death (And Mr. Taylor’s response to it) make Marguerite consider her own mortality for the first time.
Mrs. Kirwin is Marguerite’s teacher in San Francisco, who respects her as an equal regardless of her race.
Sister Monroe is a particularly fervent worshipper in Marguerite’s church in Stamps. Her behavior—which involves shouting and chasing the Reverend around as he preaches, makes Marguerite and Bailey laugh so hard one day that they are whipped harshly when they get home.
The preacher in Marguerite’s church in Stamps. Marguerite dislikes him for no reason in particular.