I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-18

Summary of Chapter 13

Bailey asks Maya to tell him who hurt her; Maya is reluctant because of Mr. Freeman's threats, but manages to tell him. Bailey then tells their grandmother, and Mr. Freeman is arrested and is put on trial. At the trial, her whole family and some family friends are there; Mr. Freeman's lawyer asks Maya questions, and when he asks whether Mr. Freeman had touched her before, she lies and says no because she feels she has to. She thinks that letting Mr. Freeman touch her before the rape makes her a bad girl, and that if she tells anyone they will be very angry at her. She feels worse about this lie than anything else; and, when she hears that Mr. Freeman was beaten to death, she thinks it is her fault because she told a lie.

Maya feels so badly about this lie that she thinks she will alienate people and drive them away if she talks, and they sense the bad things she thinks she has done. She decides to stop talking to everyone but Bailey, and for a while this is accepted as being part of the trauma. When she refuses to speak after a few months, she is punished for being Œuppity'; then, she and Bailey are sent back to Stamps. Bailey is heartbroken, and Maya only cares because she knows it is her fault that they are going, and that this has hurt Bailey.

Analysis of Chapter 13

Angelou describes the guilt that she felt because of lying in court, and because she had let Mr. Freeman touch her before, and had liked being held by him. Although it seems strange that a child would feel that they did something wrong when they were hurt by an adult, Angelou shows that as a child she was unable to make this connection, and understand that she wasn't guilty. Also, that young Maya would feel worse about lying than about being raped seems not to make sense; but the shame of what happened, and the shame of having to hide it, is harder on her than the actual physical crime against her.

To describe her guilt, Angelou compares the policeman who brings news of Mr. Freeman's death to a "recording angel" who knows of her sins; she thinks she has "evilness" in her, and will not go to heaven. She takes all the blame for Mr. Freeman's death, though she did not do it, and even her small lie wouldn't have changed things. Her lie, she thins, would "flood the world and drown all the innocent people"; this image relates how overwhelmed Maya is by her guilt, and how bad she feels over her lie.

"Just my breath, carrying my words out, might poison people and they'd curl up and die like the black fat slugs that only pretended"; this image that Angelou uses, of poisoning people with her words, explains her decision to be mute in the most vivid terms. Since her voice was the source of her one sin, her lie in court, she thinks that her voice must be evil by association. Young Maya's decision is hard to understand in adult terms, since it is not strictly logical: but, the images she uses to tell of her guilt and her feelings expose her child-like logic and how she chose to become mute. The religious belief that had been engrained in her by her Momma is also a cause of this decision. She truly thinks that she has "sold herself to the Devil" just through one innocent lie, and since she cannot tell and be absolved of her guilt, she lets it separate her from the world, and take away her will to communicate.

Summary of Chapter 14

Bailey and Maya are back in Stamps; she is happy to be back though her brother is not, because she didn't feel at home in the strangeness of St. Louis, and with everything that happened to her. She learns from them to be satisfied with life, even when it is unfair. She also feels that nothing else can happen to her, since barely anything happens in Stamps at all. She and Bailey become a curiosity to the people of Stamps, who come by to see them and ask them about the city, which none of them have been to. Bailey exaggerates his stories of the city to entertain them, though Momma does not approve of his tall tales. Life becomes muted and pale to Maya; she can't remember a lot of people from the town. People think that her silence is just sadness at being taken away from the city; but they accept that she has always been a delicate girl, and do not admonish her for keeping quiet.

Analysis of Chapter 14

Resignation is an important theme in Maya's story while she chooses not to speak, and withdraws willingly from people. She decides to go along with the uneventful life in Stamps, because nothing bad will happen to her; she stops being active and enjoying her life, and surrenders herself to silence and sullenness. Angelou's diction tells of her giving up, being "without will or consciousness," in a "coccoon"; she will remain this way for some time, her silence lasting for several years.

This resignation in life is also conveyed through Angelou's descriptions of sounds getting dull, and color being like "faded familiarities." These metaphors tell how deeply Maya has been hurt by her belief that she lied, and also how far she would go to deny herself in the belief that she has been bad. Her forgetfulness is also a symptom of her giving up on life; she no longer has the will to recall the past or remember what is happening, and instead will just float along, with no wish to be happy or make a change in her life.

Summary of Chapter 15

Maya was mute for a year, drifting along and not saying anything to anyone other than Bailey. She mentions Bertha Flowers, probably the most prominent and graceful of Stamps' black citizens; she is proper and kind, and Maya admires her very much. But, she is ashamed at her grandmother's display of bad grammar when Mrs. Flowers is around; Maya thinks Mrs. Flowers is too good to talk to someone who doesn't know how to speak perfect English, and wishes her Momma could do better.

One day, Mrs. Flowers buys some things in the store, and asks that Maya, or Marguerite (her full name), bring them to her house to have a talk. Maya changes into a nicer dress to go to Mrs. Flowers' house, but Momma makes her take it off to show to Mrs. Flowers, who admires the stitching. Maya is completely embarrassed at being humbled like that in front of someone she admires so much. Then, Mrs. Flowers leaves the store, and Maya follows her home, carrying Mrs. Flowers' groceries.

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 word, thinking her advice wise and truthful. Mrs. Flowers advises her to learn from the people around her, and that having a formal education does not mean a person has real intelligence or wit. Mrs. Flowers sends Maya home with A Tale of Two Cities and a book of poetry, expecting her to read the works aloud in order to enjoy the language and regain her voice. Maya finally regains the will to speak, and feels very special at being noticed and taught by Mrs. Flowers.

Maya returns to the store, very happy; she brings tea cookies to Bailey, and tells him so. Maya uses the phrase "by the way," which gets her and Bailey beaten; her grandmother thinks that "by the way" is a phrase taking the Lord's name in vain, which is obscure and is hard to understand for the children.

Analysis of Chapter 15

Angelou says she "sopped aroundŠlike an old biscuit" while she was mute, the simile telling of her lack of drive and passion for life. But, she is brought out of her cocoon by Mrs. Flowers, who Angelou describes in glowing terms. Mrs. Flowers "had a private breeze which swirled around" her on summer days, the image telling of how graceful and noble she was. She is "like women in English novels," exotic and almost too ideal to be real, and living in Stamps.

Young Maya's admiration for Mrs. Flowers means that Maya carefully heeds Mrs. Flowers' words; had Maya not had a woman as gracious and intelligent as Mrs. Flowers to instruct her, she might have remained mute for years to come. Her childlike joy in the small, fine things of Mrs. Flowers' house is evident in the detailed description of the tea cookies, and her amazement at how neat and beautiful Mrs. Flowers' house is. Dwelling on these varied images shows how high Maya's regard for Mrs. Flowers is, and how much she treasures any sight or experience outside of her ordinary experience in Stamps.

This scene is one of the most vividly recreated in the book so far; Angelou speaks of the sounds of Mrs. Stamps reading, her new understanding of language, and her feelings at finally having to speak. Being able to connect with people and literature through language was like having "a cup of mead with Beowulf or a hot cup of tea and milk with Oliver Twist," Angelou says. These allusions to literary characters tell how language brought color and meaning back into her life, and how Mrs. Flowers' gifts had an impact on her for the rest of her life. Also, that she was liked for being herself and singled out by Mrs. Flowers made a huge difference to her, and finally broke her out of her cocoon.

Summary of Chapter 16

Angelou recalls being taught to embroider, sew, and crochet, which all girls in her part of Stamps were taught to do; but, to learn finer manners, you had to go outside of the black part of Stamps, and she learned these things from working for a white woman, Mrs.Cullinan. Mrs. Cullinan is a very strict and somewhat tyrannical woman who is older and lives with her husband, and Miss Glory as her primary housekeeper and cook. Mrs. Cullinan's house is very fancy, with a myriad of needless dishware and cutlery, and everything in its proper place. Maya pities her for a time, because Mrs. Cullinan was unable to have children; but, once Mrs. Cullinan treats her rudely and refuses to call her by her proper name, Marguerite, she begins to strongly dislike Mrs. Cullinan.

Maya decides that she has to quit, since she cannot bear to be renamed by Mrs. Cullinan, simply because a shorter name is more convenient. Maya can't just quit, though, because her Momma would not let her; so, she decides to drop Mrs. Cullinan's favorite dishes, and get fired because of it. Mrs. Cullinan yells at her, and finally calls Maya by something close to her proper name, Margaret. Maya leaves, happy that Mrs. Cullinan finally admitted that her name wasn't Mary.

Analysis of Chapter 16

Mrs. Cullinan is a symbol of all the wealthy, overly proper white people that seem to proliferate in Stamps; she is sharply contrasted with the people that Maya knows, in her fine manners and proliferation of things, rudeness, and general condescension toward black people. Maya, even as a young girl, has no patience for this type of person; she, unlike the older Miss Glory, refuses to be submissive and subservient, as she is supposed to do around whites. Maya once again rebels against existing racial codes, and does not care that this rebellion means that she loses her demeaning job.

Names are very important to people, and their importance is the major theme of this chapter. When Mrs. Cullinan refuses to call Maya, or Marguerite, by her name, she is almost denying Maya's identity; to blatantly disregard someone's name and give them another for the sake of convenience is very insulting, and Maya, rightly, does not appreciate it. It is also a display of power of Mrs. Cullinan over both Maya and Miss Glory, that she feels she can arbitrarily rename them, and they have to put up with the indignity. There is a certain symmetry to the chapter, however, as Maya both begins and ends the chapter with the same name; she is able to bear Mrs. Cullinan changing her real name, and then giving her her name back at the end.

Summary of Chapter 17

Most of the week in Stamps is a matter of repetition; but on Saturday, people come into town, dressed up, and give their children some money to spend. Maya and Bailey have to do a lot of chores on Saturdays, but still Angelou recalls that it was her favorite day, simply because routines were different for a day. Bailey goes to the movies each Saturday, and one week is late in coming home; it is dark and he is not back, which makes Momma fear for the worst. So, Momma and Maya go out and search for Bailey, hoping that he is alright. They finally see him, walking around and looking dejected; he has no excuse for why he is so late, and Momma turns around and walks back home, telling him to come home too.

Maya is worried, since Bailey is sad and ignores her; she has no idea what could be wrong, and is concerned that it might be something serious. Bailey gets home and gets a whipping from Uncle Willie; Maya is still scared for him, since he doesn't even respond to the punishment. A few days later, Bailey suddenly tells her that he saw their mother; there is an actress named Kay Francis in some of the movies he has seen, who looks almost exactly like their mother. She goes with Bailey to all the movies that Kay Francis is in, and thinks that it is nice that she can see "their mother" onscreen so often. Still, Bailey is unhappy, and scares Maya by running in front of a train; although Maya is content just to watch the films of their mother's lookalike, that is clearly not enough for Bailey, who really misses his mother.

Analysis of Chapter 17

Angelou's statement that black women had their "heartstrings tied to a hanging noose" recalls the reality of the violence in Southern towns that is visited upon black people by white people. This violence was often senseless and random, and inflicted upon innocent people, which is why Momma is especially concerned when Bailey is late coming home. Maya thinks that he might be hurt by the "bluebeards and tigers and Rippers," which is perhaps a child's way of coloring reality with imagination.

Again, the theme of parental love becomes very important to Bailey and Maya; although they have Momma and Uncle Willie to look after them, they don't have a mother and are missing motherly affection. That they latch onto a movie star that looks like their mother shows how hungry they are for their mother's presence; Bailey especially is very hurt by the fact that they don't have their mother with them, and even seeing the movie star's films cannot soothe his grief completely.

Perhaps it is ironic that Maya and Bailey identify a glamorous, white movie star as a mother figure, but this again shows the hypocrisy of racial division, and the class and economic privileges that go along with being white. If their mother is more beautiful, talented, and lovely in real life than this idealized actress is on screen, then perhaps she deserves the same attention and privilege. However, their mother would be considered more lowly simply because she is black, and is not allowed the privilege of being considered alongside a white woman.

Summary of Chapter 18

Angelou again describes weekday evenings as being times of tiredness and disappointment, especially for the cotton pickers of the town. But, they still believe in God, and credit God when things don't go wrong, even if they aren't going too well. A revival meeting has come to town, as it does every year; adults and teenagers enjoy it, though most children don't quite understand the concept of the meeting. At the meeting, members of the various churches meet at their only combined service for the year, and the whole meeting is run by the Church of God in Christ, a church that most people in Stamps think is strange.

The sermon begins, and it is basically condemning the white people of the town for their lack of charity, and for demanding obedience of the black people of the town, and much recognition when they do decide to give to the less-privileged black community. People get excited and join in, feeling better about their lives with the assurance that they will one day be welcomed into heaven. Then the preacher calls up for people to be saved by God and join whatever church they wish, which is unheard of since most preachers just shill for their own churches. When the meeting is over, people feel refreshed and happy that even though they are oppressed and have little, God is on their side.

Analysis of Chapter 18

Religious faith is a theme that is important in Angelou's descriptions of life in Stamps; even she, though she is skeptical, sees how big a role religion plays in her life and all around her. It is ironic that people whose lives are very hard believe in God more strongly than those who are blessed with wealth or privilege, but then again the people of Stamps have to rely on something to get them through their hard days. Although Maya thinks that people should see things the way they are, in a realistic rather than a faith-tinged way, it's probably the only way people can stay optimistic in their difficult lives.

Religion also serves a perhaps less-pure purpose in black society. Faith gives them a sense of self-righteousness, that someday they will win out over the white people and be recognized by God as better, more faithful people. It is ironic, in a way, that the black people of Stamps think that white people won't go to heaven because "the Lord loved the poor and hated those high-cast in the world"; their reasoning is obviously skewed, and meant to make them feel better about their economic hardship. Angelou refers to the proverb that it is "easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven," again a justification to make people feel better about their status.

However, religion in this context pacifies people to an extent that is not beneficial. It makes the people of Stamps complacent that they are being overworked and underpaid, when they should be fighting against their treatment. Self-righteousness is another theme at work in this section, and after the revival meeting, people "[bask] in the righteousness of the poor," rather than dedicating themselves to seeking equality and making their lives better. As such, religion seems a convenient way of keeping the black community pacified and content, like a convenient instrument of the whites. Self-righteousness is almost always a dangerous and damaging thing, though it does help the people of Stamps to bear through conditions that would be very hard to change.