I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


Maya Angelou

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Caged Bird Sings can help.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Prologue Summary & Analysis

The prologue tells a story about Marguerite in church on Easter, performing in a play. She is wearing a dress that she’d hoped would make her look like one of the white girls she’d seen in movies. She dreams that one day she will wake up white, and her blackness will have been a curse put on her by a mean fairy stepmother. Marguerite stumbles over her lines and then runs from the church because she has to go to the bathroom. She runs, peeing and crying, back home. The prologue closes with this summation: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.”
The pressures of traditional femininity and the ideal of whiteness weigh heavily on the mind of our narrator in this opening segment. Marguerite’s running toward “home” from the church in this scene is followed by a note about the pain of displacement. Black life is not only dangerous in the south (there is a metaphorical razor threatening the throats of black people); but it is also displaced; where is a southern black person’s home? The book will in many ways serve as a lengthy investigation of what displacement means—conceptually, practically—and this prologue begins that discussion.
Race, Inequality, and Identity Theme Icon
Sex, Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Home and Displacement Theme Icon
Related Quotes