I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Describe the segregation in Stamps and how it influences Marguerite.


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In Stamps, segregation means social, economic, and political inferiority for the black citizens of the town. The policies of segregation basically set the boundaries on their lives, assuring that they will never be able to make ends meet or gain well-paying jobs, or be able to mix with white people as equals when they are in the town.

Race and appearance

In the world Maya grows up in, beauty is narrowly defined as being white, with blond hair and blue eyes. Maya believes as a child that being black means being ugly, and thinks of her appearance as a "black ugly dream" that she will wake out of.


Whether prejudice is a result of race or appearance, it definitely has an effect on the lives of Maya and her family, and on Uncle Willie doubly. Maya and her friends and relatives will always be subject to prejudice merely because they are black; Uncle Willie has to endure even more hardship, since people are also wary of him since he is crippled. Prejudice is a difficult thing to overcome, and Maya must battle it in order to build her self-esteem.