“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

The book is an autobiography of Maya Angelou which tells of her hardships growing up as a black girl. Maya and her brother live a life of movement following their parents’ divorce until her mother finally marries a positive father figure. The book contains thirty-six chapters which are summarized as follows.

In chapters, one through five, Maya at three years of age, and her elder brother Bailey are sent to their paternal grandmother Mrs. Henderson in Stamps, California. Their parents have divorced. They call their grandmother Momma and she lives with his adult disabled son Willie. Willie acts as their disciplinarian and Maya sympathizes with his state and she gets close to him. Momma owns the only store in the area making her one of the most respected people in the community, except for the white children who mimic her amounting to Maya’s rage. Maya also develops a liking for poems in chapter two especially Shakespeare’s work although she feels guilty because he is white. In chapter four, she feels ugly for being black and Bailey stands by her whenever ugly remarks about her appearance are made.

In chapters six to ten, the children relocate to stay with their mother Vivian, and her boyfriend Freeman. They cry in chapter eight for not staying with their parents after the latter sent them Christmas presents. In chapters eleven through fifteen, the children go back to Momma. This is after Maya is sexually molested before being raped by Freeman who is later killed. Maya goes silent after his death blaming herself for the death. Back in Stamps, she gets back to her old self after spending time with Mrs. Bertha who encourages Maya to read aloud in a bid to break her silent spell.

Chapters sixteen through nineteen revolve around the children’s development in Stamps. At ten Maya is employed but she intentionally breaks her racist’s boss china pot so as to be fired. In chapter nineteen, the store is filled with apprehension as they wait for Joe to win the heavyweight championship, something that would give the black community pride. Chapters twenty to twenty two see the children growing older and engaging in teenage mischief. Maya and an eighth grader Tommy have a crush on each other. Bailey falls in love with an older girl Joyce who later takes off with another man, much to Bailey’s disappointment.

In chapters twenty three to twenty six, the children relocate to stay with Vivian who is actually concerned about their wellbeing. This is because of the high level of racism shown unto them, first at Maya’s eighth grade graduation where blacks are portrayed as being good in athletics and not academics then by a dentist who cannot treat Maya for her being black. Chapters twenty seven through thirty one see the children living well in San Francisco with their mother and step father, a business man who treats them well. Maya performs well at school and even receives a scholarship to study dance and drama. She however fights with her father’s girlfriend in chapter thirty one while visiting them.

Maya and Bailey lead reckless teenage lives. The two are separated in chapter thirty three. She gets pregnant while trying to prove her not being a lesbian. She however graduates from school and the book ends with a more confident, responsible Maya, willing to take care of her new born son.

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