She is the author of this autobiography, which covers the early years of her life. Most of her early years are spent in the care of her grandmother, Momma Henderson, in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas. However, by the end of the volume, she is living in San Francisco with her mother and brother Bailey.
Bailey Johnson Jr.
Maya's brother, and her closest friend while they are growing up. He is very attached to his mother, although he is separated from her for most of his adult life. He is supportive of Maya while they are growing up, but when he decides to move out, they become more distant.
Maya and Bailey's grandmother, and their father Bailey Sr.'s mother. She owns a store in Stamps, Arkansas, and is a highly religious, very exacting woman. She moulds Maya and Bailey into intelligent, polite, and religious children. She is strong and practical, but embarrasses Maya in not standing up to prejudice.
Momma Henderson's crippled son, he lives with her and helps run the store. He disciplines Bailey and Maya severely on rare occasions, and they are a bit wary of him because of his disability and temperament.
A fat old pastor who makes visits to the Hendersons several times a year; Maya and Bailey hate him because he eats everything, is unpleasant, and never remembers their names.
A zealous woman who often loses control of herself in church, beating up the pastor and going crazy.
Maya and Bailey's father, he is largely absent during their upbringing. Maya tries to love him, but his negligence and self-centeredness means a relationship never develops between him and his children.
Vivian Baxter, Maya's mother
She is a strong, tough woman who is also beautiful and charmingMaya remembers seeing her sing and dance on several occasions. She and Maya become close, and she supports Maya during her pregnancy and when the baby is born. Bailey though is her favorite, and leaves home because their relationship is almost too close.
Maya and Bailey's grandmother, she is almost white and holds great influence in St. Louis.
These three men are tough and brutal; they are probably the ones who kill Mr. Freeman after he is freed on charges of raping Maya.
The boyfriend of Maya's mother in St. Louis, he rapes Maya, is cleared of the charges, and then is found dead the next day.
The "aristocrat" of black Stamps, she is a gracious woman who encourages Maya's love of literature, and also helps Maya to break out of her muteness. Maya regards her as the pinnacle of humankind.
The terrible white woman who Maya works for briefly; Maya hates her for calling her "Mary," though Mrs. Cullinan corrects this mistake on the day Maya is fired.
Maya's first friend, a girl in her grade who lives in Stamps.
A boy who sends Maya valentines, much to her dismay.
A poor girl who lives briefly in Stamps, and makes friends with Bailey.
George and Florida Taylor
Neighbors of the Hendersons; Florida Taylor's funeral is the first funeral Maya attends, and George comes to their house for companionship after his wife's death.
Maya's academic competitor at school; he gets to give the speech at graduation, and saves the event by singing the "Negro National Anthem".
The white, condescending speaker at the graduation ceremony, he manages to destroy the festivity of the ceremony.
One of Maya's teachers in San Francisco; she is a good teacher, and entirely without prejudice or favoritism. She is the only school teacher Maya remembers.
The second husband of Maya's mother; he is a good, honest man, and Maya's first real father.
The girlfriend of Maya's father, who dislikes Maya and ends up stabbing her.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Mrs. Flowers says that although Maya does good work in school, she needs to talk; Mrs. Flowers thinks that spoken language is essential, and words do not mean as much on paper as they do when they are spoken. Maya hangs on Mrs. Flowers' every...
This quote comes from Marguerite's first lesson in learning. This is the point at which she learns to understand that illiteracy doesn't translate as ignorance, and that a lack of a formal education doesn't mean there is a lack of intelligence....
The poet juxtaposes the plight of the caged bird with the free bird. This is used as a metaphor for people who are trapped by racism and poverty compared with people who are free to explore their potential.