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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Study Guide

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou grows from three to seventeen over the course of this autobiography. Abandoned by her parents, Maya and her brother Bailey are sent to live with their grandmother (Momma) and crippled uncle (Willie) in Stamps, Arkansas.

Most of Maya's childhood issues revolve around the racism of her white neighbors. Even though Momma is relatively wealthy, owning a store in the heart of Stamps' black community, the white children of the town tease her mercilessly. In one humiliating incident, one of these "po white trash girls" shows Momma her pubic hair. In one incident, Momma hides Willie in a vegetable bin to protect him from a KKK raid.

One racist employer refuses to use Maya's name, insisting her name is Mary. A white dentist refuses to treat Maya's rotting tooth, even when Momma reminds him that she once loaned him money. The blacks enjoy a moment of racial pride when they listen to the radio broadcast of Joe Lewis' championship fight, but it's a rare moment for them.

Unexpectedly, things change when Maya and Bailey's father appears in Stamps. He takes them with him when he departs, but leaves them with her mother. Maya gets raped by Mr. Freeman, her mother's boyfriend. He is convicted, but gets no jail time, but gets murdered - probably by Maya's uncles. Maya feels guilty for his death and withdraws.

She returns to Stamps, but remains reclusive to the point of rarely speaking. Things turn around when she meets Mrs. Bertha Flowers, who supplies her with books and encourages her to read. This coaxes her out of her numbness at last.

Later, to get them away from the racism, Momma sends the children to their mother, who is now in San Francisco. Maya studies dance and drama, and becomes the first black female streetcar conductor in town. At one point, she visits her father in southern California, where she teaches herself to drive in order to transport her drunk father over the boarder after getting into Mexico.

During Maya's final year at high school, she has concerns of lesbianism, and to disprove those feelings, has sex and gets pregnant. She hides it until she graduates, and at the end of the story, finally accepts adulthood by accepting her role as mother to her newborn son.

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With what illegal activities is grandmother Baxter involved? what do you think Momma would say about this situation ?

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