Summary of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Summary of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya recalls an Easter Sunday at the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in Arkansas. Her mother makes her a special Easter dress from lavender taffeta, and Maya thinks the dress will make her look like the blond-haired blue-eyed movie star that she wishes, deep down, to be. But, the dress turns out to be drab and ugly, as Maya laments that she is black, and unattractive as well. She leaves her church pew to go to the bathroom, and doesn't make it; she runs from the church, ashamed, but glad to be out of church and away from the children who torment her, and make her childhood even harder than it already is.


One of the main themes of this chapter is race and appearance; Maya already establishes that she wanted to be a movie-star looking white girl as a child, and tried to deny her real appearance. Connected with the idea of race is beauty, as Maya describes images of blond hair and blue eyes as the paragon of beauty, and says her appearance is merely a "black ugly dream" that she will wake out of.

Maya seems to have been an imaginative child, as she envisions her "head [bursting] like a dropped watermelon" from trying to hold her bladder. Angelou shows a talent for using images to explain and clarify feelings, and employing her descriptive powers to make even mundane incidents very vivid.

This autobiography, which covers Maya's life from age 3 to age 16, is often considered a bildungsroman since it is primarily a tale of youth and growing into young adulthood. However, unlike a typical, novel-form bildungsroman, the story does not end with the achievement of adulthood; Angelou continues to write about her life in four other volumes, all addressing her life chronologically from her childhood to the accomplishments of her adulthood. It is important to keep in mind that this is an autobiography, rather than a novel, and that the narrator and the author are indeed one and the same, and the events described in the book are intended to relate a very personal portrait of a person's life.

Chapter 1:


Maya says that when she was three years old and her brother was four, they were sent from their father in California to their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. They were eventually embraced by the town, and lived at the back of the store that their grandmother and uncle owned and ran. ...

... middle of paper ... and flawed.

The images and words chosen to represent St. Louis tell of the children's fear of this new place, and their apprehension at being taken to live with someone they don't know. The "crowded-together, soot-covered buildings" are completely alien, and a bit bleak to them. They may have been driving "to Hell" for all the children knew, with their uncertainty and fear coloring the strange landscape. She begins to believe in "Grownups' Betrayal," as again they are being let down by their father; her tone reveals her hurt and bitterness at being reclaimed by their father, only to be sent away once again.

Angelou describes her mother as being like "a hurricane in its perfect power," or "the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow"; these metaphors convey that Maya's mother is a flawless work of nature, vibrant, powerful, and very beautiful. Maya seems to admire her from afar, too, like you would admire a rainbow from afar; but the instant power of the children's love for her is encapsulated in the two cliched phrases "struck dumb" and "love at first sight." Although Maya might feel a bit distant from her mother, nevertheless the love she feels brings them a little closer.
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