One Christmas, Mother and Daddy Bailey send presents to Stamps for Maya and Bailey. When they receive the presents, the kids cry and are depressed. Until that moment, Maya and Bailey had been sure that their parents were dead. Ironically, receiving proof that their parents were in fact alive makes the children distraught rather than overjoyed. This is because they would rather their parents died than know their parents abandoned them.
Maya's Rape (Dramatic Irony)
Maya’s rape is a tragic, yet pivotal moment in the book. It is a key event in Maya’s life and has many impacts on Maya’s development and sense of self. As a result of her rape, Maya withdraws emotionally and physically from the world around her, and refuses to speak to anyone besides Bailey. No one in her family understands her behavior, and they punish her for it. To modern readers, most likely familiar with the signs of PTSD and/or the need of rape survivors to speak with psychological professionals, the behavior of Maya’s family must seem cruel. However, it is important to remember the social, political, and temporal context of Maya’s rape. It happened at a time when psychology was in its early stages of development, when Black people didn’t have easy access to certain services, and when the effects of rape weren’t as widely understood. Thus, readers of Caged Bird probably know and understand more about Maya’s trauma and situation than her family members who were there at the time. This is an example of dramatic irony.
Maya and Mrs. Cullinan (Situational Irony)
Before Mrs. Cullinan starts calling Maya “Mary,” they have a congenial relationship. Maya is sympathetic towards Mrs. Cullinan because she knows the white woman cannot have children, and Mrs. Cullinan calls Maya a “sweet little thing” to her white friends. Ironically, though Mrs. Cullinan seems to have a soft spot for Maya, even giving the girl two of her dresses, she still disrespects and belittles Maya by changing her name to “Mary.” Mrs. Cullinan’s refusal to call Maya her real name is a power play, one that Maya wins when she breaks Mrs. Cullinan’s china.
Black Americans and Japanese Americans (Situational Irony)
In San Francisco, before the start of World War II, Black Americans and Japanese Americans are in close proximity to one another and interact daily. It is logical to think that because they are minorities, these two groups would try to band together against racism. However, as Japanese Americans are rounded up and put in internment camps following America’s declaration of war on Japan, Black Americans offer little to no sympathy or support. According to Maya, this is because neither group believed there were commonalities between them. In fact, once Japanese Americans began to disappear from San Francisco, it was Black people that took over their businesses and neighborhoods, all the while never questioning the changes. This is one of racism’s most bitter products and ironies. Though both Black Americans and Japanese Americans experienced racism (though at different magnitudes), this shared legacy did not bring them together, but rather pushed them apart. Each group struggled to prove how they were better and more worthy, and saw one group’s loss as their gain.
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.
Maya seems to have been an imaginative child, as she envisions her "head [bursting] like a dropped watermelon" from trying to hold her bladder. She imagines a life as a movie star except she is a white blonde movie star. Maya has internalized...