I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Imagery

The Store

“The lamplight in the Store gave a soft make-believe feeling to our world which made me want to whisper and walk about on tiptoe.” (14)

The Store is perhaps Maya’s favorite place in Stamps, and her description of it supports this claim. The Store seems “too good to be true,” a magical, “make-believe” place that Maya dreamed of. Including details like wanting to whisper and “walk about on tiptoe,” as if one is in a sacrosanct place, further illustrates the importance of the Store to Maya.

Black Southern Life

Maya writes that after leaving Stamps she had to confront “the stereotyped picture of gay song-singing cotton pickers,” an image that filled her with rage (16). This is because an image of a peaceful, idyllic, and bucolic South are only part of the overall painting or photograph. In Caged Bird Maya does give us images of dew-filled, hazy mornings and bountiful summer picnics. However, those illustrations are counterbalanced by descriptions of the unromantic side of Black Southern life. Cotton picking is not necessarily a cause for joyous singing, with its need for back-breaking toil and its “mean little cotton bolls” that cut fingers (16). And racism, of course, is the always-present specter looming over the lives of Southern Blacks. By interlacing images of the South’s beauty with images of its horrors, Angelou creates a more complete picture of what Black Southern Life looked like during the 1940s and 50s.

The "Powhitetrash" Girls

Maya’s dislike for and incredulity towards the "powhitetrash" girls is apparent in her negative description of them. Maya says, “the dirt of the girls’ cotton dresses continued on their legs, arms, and faces to make them all of a piece” and that “their greasy uncolored hair hung down, uncombed” (51). Maya juxtaposes their appearance with the rigorous grooming Momma forced her and Bailey to do. Even in winter, Maya and her brother had to “wash faces, arms, necks, legs, and feet…in ice-cold, clear water” (44). The point of this comparison is to show that despite their cleaner, more respectable outside appearances, Maya and her family were still considered lesser than the "powhitetrash" girls because of their skin color.

Mrs. Bertha Flowers

Mrs. Flowers is one of the most influential people in Maya’s life. She “threw [Maya her] first life line” in the years following Maya’s rape (154). Furthermore, Mrs. Flowers was a bit of a legend or famous person in Black Stamps—“she was [their] side’s answer to the richest white woman in town” (154). For these reasons, Maya is painstaking in her depiction of Mrs. Flowers. She uses a simile to compare the color of Mrs. Flowers’ skin to a rich plum, and says “[Mrs. Flowers’] printed voile dresses and flowered hats were as right for her as denim overalls for a farmer” (154). Maya also invokes the weather to describe how perfectly composed and put together Mrs. Flowers always looks. For example, in “the Arkansas summer days it seemed [Mrs. Flowers] had a private breeze which swirled around, cooling her” while everyone else sweated buckets (154).