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I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the very first of seven autobiographical works by American writer Maya Angelou, released in 1969. The book chronicles she life from age 3 through period 16, recounting an unsettled and sometimes traumatic childhood that included rape and also racism. It came to be one that the most widely read and also taught publications written by an african American woman.



The prologue describes an event in i beg your pardon Angelou, together a tiny child, is reciting a poem in church. Emotion ugly since she imagined in vain the the dress her grandmother do her would certainly be for this reason pretty the she would certainly be seen as a beautiful white child, she forgets the poem and then wets she pants together she to escape the church in embarrassment.

The story begins in 1931, as Maya, period three, and also her elder brother, Bailey, are sent to Stamps, Arkansas, come live v their paternal grandmother, who they call Momma, after your parents’ breakup. Momma own the just store in the afri American component of town. The children settle into life with Momma, helping she at the store and also learning to read and do arithmetic. One night a former sheriff warns Momma come hide she disabled son due to the fact that white males are planning revenge ~ a Black male “messed with” a white woman. Later on a group of young white girls ridicule Momma while she stands, dignified and unmoving, exterior the store. Once the an excellent Depression hits, Momma keeps the store from walking under by permitting customers to trade their rations because that goods. One Christmas, Maya and also Bailey receive presents from their parents, who they suspect to it is in dead. A year later on their father, dad Bailey, arrives in a sophisticated car, and also he take away Maya and also Bailey come St. Louis to live v their mother, the beautiful Vivian.

At an initial they stay with Vivian’s mother and also their uncles. In ~ school, Maya and her brother are an ext advanced than the various other students, and also they are relocated up a grade. Later the kids move in with Vivian and also her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman begins molesting eight-year-old Maya, threaten to kill Bailey if she speak anyone. One day he rapes her, and she conceals her stained underwear under the mattress. When changing the linens, Bailey and also Vivian discover the garment and realize what happened. Throughout Mr. Freeman’s trial, Maya lies as soon as asked even if it is he touched her prior to the rape. Later Mr. Freeman is discovered dead, apparently having actually been beaten come death. Feeling guilty, Maya stops speaking come anyone other than Bailey. After a couple of months of she silence, Maya and Bailey room sent back to Momma.

Maya is relieved to be ago in Stamps, but she proceeds her silence. Eventually, the sophisticated Mrs. Bertha flowers takes Maya under she wing, informing her the it is crucial to speak and also giving her publications to review aloud, and she starts talking again. At the period of 10, Maya is sent to job-related for a white woman, who calls her Mary quite than her surname (Marguerite). Offended, Maya breaks part china in order to get fired. Later, Bailey is upset as soon as he look at a movie starring Kay Francis due to the fact that he think the actress looks just like Vivian, and also he provides an not successful attempt to return to his mother. Maya later makes her an initial friend, Louise Kendricks, a girl native school. During this time, Maya proceeds to conference racism. When she establishes cavities, Momma takes her to the white dentist who borrowed money native Momma throughout the Depression, but he refuses to treat the child, and also they have to take a bus to the closest black color dentist. Bailey later on sees the disc corpse that a Black guy pulled out of a pond, and also a white man makes him assist some black men carry the body into the jail. ~ the incident, Momma decides to take it Maya and Bailey ago to your mother.

Maya and Bailey relocate with their mommy to Oakland, California. There Maya attends a school in which she is among only 3 Black students. When she is 14 years old, she is awarded a scholarship to the California job School, whereby she research studies drama and also dance. Vivian’s new husband, dad Clidell, i do not care a genuine father figure to Maya.

Maya safety a summer in southern California v Daddy Bailey and his girlfriend, Dolores. Dolores and also Maya execute not gain along. One day, dad Bailey bring away Maya through him ~ above a shopping pilgrimage to Mexico. Maya enjoys the excursion till she loses track of her father, who ultimately returns come their auto too drunk come drive. Return she has never moved before, Maya manages to drive them come the border, wherein she hits another car. In ~ this point, daddy Bailey wakes up, pacifies the various other driver, and also then cd driver the rest of the way home. Upon their return, dad Bailey and Dolores argue, and he go out. Maya tries come console Dolores, but Dolores insults Vivian, top Maya to slap her. Dolores then cut Maya, that decides to run away. ~ spending a night in a junkyard, she awakens to find a ar of Black, white, and Mexican runaways living there. She continues to be for a month and also then return to Vivian.

In the meantime, Bailey has end up being friends v “a group of slick street boys” and begun date a white prostitute. At the period of 16 he leaves home, to his sister’s an excellent sorrow. Maya browbeats the transit agency into rental her together the first female african American streetcar conductor in san Francisco. However, ~ spending one semester in ~ the job, she returns to school. She later reads the lesbian novel The well of Loneliness (1928) by Radclyffe Hall, and, misunderstanding what lesbianism is, she starts to fear that she might be a lesbian. Though Vivian do the efforts to reassure her, she is no assuaged, and she identify to have actually sex v a boy. The encounter is unpleasant, and also it results in Maya’s coming to be pregnant. ~ above Bailey’s advice, she keeps the news come herself and returns to school. After ~ graduating indigenous high school, Maya speak Vivian and also Daddy Clidell, who are completely supportive. After guy is born, Vivian assures Maya that she will certainly be a great mother.


The book’s title come from the city “Sympathy” through Paul Laurence Dunbar. Versus the background of racial tensions in the South, Angelou challenged the traumatic occasions of her childhood and also explored the advancement of her solid identity together an afri American woman. Her individual and cultural feelings of displacement were mediated with her passion for literature, which verified both healing and also empowering.

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After the 1968 assassination of martin Luther King, Jr., Angelou was motivated by a meeting with writer James Baldwin and also cartoonist Jules Feiffer to create I understand Why the Caged Bird Sings together a way of handling the fatality of she friend and to attract attention to her own personal struggles through racism. The book was automatically popular and remained top top best-seller list for two years. Angelou cowrote the screenplay for the 1979 tv movie version of the story, i m sorry starred Esther Rolle as Momma and also Diahann Carroll as Vivian.