I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25-30

Summary of Chapter 25

Angelou recalls that Momma was secretive, as were many black people; she only told as much of the truth as she had to sometimes, and no more. When Momma tells the children she is taking them to California because she is getting old and has her hands full with Uncle Willie, Maya and Bailey know that she is not telling them the whole truth on the matter. Maya suspects that the reason they are being sent away has to do with an incident mostly involving Bailey; he comes into the store one day, looking completely shocked after going into the white part of town.

When he finally starts talking, he tells them that he saw a dead black man, fished out of the pond and very decayed. A white man stood over the body and smiled, which disturbed Bailey; Bailey had to help carry the body into the jail for the white man, and the white people in the jail protested at a dead black man being put there with them. Bailey wants to know why white people hate black people so much, and what black people ever did wrong. Momma and Uncle Willie don't want to answer the question, or maybe can't face the truth themselves.

Maya thinks that Uncle Willie and Momma decide to send them to California to protect them from the extreme racism they would have to endure getting older. They know that Maya and Bailey won't be able to accept and live with the way things are there, so it would be better for them to leave the South. Momma decides to accompany Maya to Los Angeles, where her father lives; Bailey will follow a month later, so Momma can get more money from the store to pay the train fare. Maya isn't sorry to leave Stamps again, but she is sad that she will be separated from Bailey for a month, and that Uncle Willie will be left alone for a while.

Analysis of Chapter 25

Racism again shows itself in Stamps, and the inability of Uncle Willie or Momma to explain it or confront it at Bailey's urging shows how deeply even they have taken it to heart. The divide between Maya and Bailey, and Uncle Willie and Momma, becomes clear as Bailey cannot reconcile himself with the hard facts of racism. The images he describes, and the diction he uses, betray his shock; he is clearly traumatized by seeing the "rotten dead Negro," and even more so by the white men's mocking laughter over the body.

Racism, as Angelou presents it here, is an "enigma," a "humorless puzzle," something that cannot be understood, but that Uncle Willie and Momma and the people of Stamps have gotten used to. Momma is determined enough to avoid the question that she sends them away; for although they accept racism and the system of segregation that it furthers, to understand it or confront it themselves might mean they are unable to live under this system themselves.

Summary of Chapter 26

Maya finally realizes that she is going to see her mother again, for the first time since the rape. She doesn't know exactly how she will face her mother because of this past event, and gets nervous about their meeting. But her mother meets her and Momma at the train platform, the two women contrasting as greatly as two women can; Momma and Maya are made comfortable in L.A., as Maya's mother Vivian makes living arrangements for Maya and Bailey in San Francisco. Bailey joins them, and they live in L.A. with Momma while their Œpermanent living arrangements' are made by their mother.

Maya recalls Momma adapting quite well to the very different world of California during this time; she had never before been outside of her Texarkana area, and did well with getting around, shopping, and making friends like herself during the time she is there. Finally, she announces that she is going to leave; Maya and Bailey are uncertain because they still don't know their parents well, and are leaving the security of Momma's protection.

Their mother drives them to San Francisco, and is as lovely and captivating as they remember her; however, she is also nervous about taking the children back, and knowing this makes her more real to Maya and Bailey. They live in a small apartment in Oakland for a while, and Grandmother Baxter and two of their mother's brothers are nearby, though they are in a worse financial condition than they were a few years ago. Still, they are overjoyed to be with their mother, and her cheerfulness makes it easy to bear the cramped conditions.

Their mother, however, is very tough; she shot her business partner for getting unruly and cursing her, which shows streaks of the toughness of her brothers. She is joyful and lovable, but she is no one's fool in any way. World War II starts while Maya and Bailey are in San Francisco, and their mother marries Daddy Clidell, who is the first father Maya knows. They move to San Francisco proper, and the Baxters stay at the house in Oakland.

Analysis of Chapter 26

For the only time in the book, Maya's two mother figures come into contact, with the worlds they represent contrasted. Momma is the "hen" from the old world, Maya's mother the "chick" from the new; the metaphors suggest a sense of age for both women, but also an outlook on the world, suggested by either the past or the present. There is also a sense that Momma is the more bedrock-like of the two; she is "large, stolid," unchanging and strong. Maya's own mother is not weak, but is quicker, more adaptable, more flexible, as a modern woman had to be.

Again, the theme of abandonment comes to the fore, as Maya and Bailey are left by Momma to the parents they barely know. They are nervous about this change, as their lives are uprooted again during their young lives. The theme of family ties is also important, for although they are with their mother, their blood relation does not dictate familiarity, nor with their father. Although they get to know their mother, and their relationship with her develops, their father remains as a stranger; although he is their birth father, he is largely absent, and the blood tie between them and their father is weak for that reason.

Although Angelou offers up her mother's faults, her over-toughness and lack of mercy, she also paints her mother as an almost super-human figure. The anecdote about her mother shooting her business partner for calling her a bitch is a prime example; it is certainly an over-reaction, but the way Angelou tells it, this story conveys her mother's power and toughness. Angelou's telling is almost ironic, in that they are still friends afterward, and the shooting is treated as justified; the action seems as brutal as something her brothers would do, and maybe out of character as well.

Summary of Chapter 27

With the coming of the war, the Japanese population of the city disappears, and the Southern black population begins to move in to replace it. The southerners come for war work, imagining a good life and good money in the big city. However, they aren't sympathetic to the displaced Asian community as they should be; they treat the oppression of the Japanese with indifference, not bothering to sympathize since they too are discriminated against.

Maya feels at home for the first time in San Francisco; she understands the spirit of the city, and the liveliness that the war brings. The city is full of people migrated from other places, from the South and outlying areas; but still the prejudices of the South are not left behind, and racial tension is common in the city.

Analysis of Chapter 27

The greatest irony about the black community in San Francisco is certainly how it ignores the oppression of the Japanese. One might think that one repressed minority might be free from prejudice against another, but this is not the case; the situation of the Japanese is not even considered in the same context. The black migrants ignore the Japanese as they are ignored by the white community; it seems like they are perpetuating the same crimes as the white community is, again showing that the theme of prejudice in the novel doesn't just work toward the detriment of black people.

Still, racism can't be escaped simply by leaving the South, and in San Francisco there are many other minorities to be targeted. Although the institutions of racism are not established and enforced like they are in the South, it is all still there, along with the economic and social divide between the races. San Francisco is different in its vastness and bustle, but doesn't change the realities of being a black person living in America.

Summary of Chapter 28

Maya gets good grades in school, but does not get along with the girls at her single-sex high school. The girls are mean, brash, and bewildering, and it is hard for Maya to understand and like them. Then Maya transfers to George Washington High School, a school that has only three black students, with the rest being white. The students are more bold than she is and many are better educated, which intimidates Maya. Her time there is only made worthwhile by Miss Kirwin, a teacher who has no favorites, and really expects them to learn about their world and keep up with news events. She also treats Maya no different because she is black, and tries to stimulate all her students equally; she ends up being the only teacher that Maya remembers.

Maya is given a scholarship to the California Labor School, a college for adults; she takes dance and drama classes there, and learns the acting and other skills that help her to a stage career later on. She learns to be less shy about her body, as she begins to love dance and learn how to use her body.

Analysis of Chapter 28

As in Stamps, there are black areas of town and black schools; Maya is as intimidated going to the white part of town as she would be in Stamps, although unlike Stamps, she would be unable to go to the white high school there. However, Miss Kirwin is her first example of a white person who does not act with prejudice; Maya is extremely impressed by this, since she is so used to being treated as unequal. Miss Kirwin is the first white person Maya learns to like and trust, which helps her to stop regarding white people as an unfriendly, alien group.

Maya also begins to gain confidence through her dance and drama classes; she becomes more positive about her body, which is a step in the right direction. Her life seems to be fulfilling, with her mother and brother, classes, and books; she is passionate about many things, and her life is certainly more colorful than it was in Stamps.

Summary of Chapter 29

Maya's family take boarders in their home since they have a lot of extra space; they are a colorful and diverse lot, moving on frequently. Maya wants to ignore Daddy Clidell, her mother's new husband, but is drawn in by him; they become friends, and Maya learns to like him at last. He is modest and forthcoming, and honest in his businesses; Maya begins to regard him as a good man, and he becomes her first real father.

Daddy Clidell introduces her to colorful characters in the neighborhood, people who teach her how not to get fleeced and also tell her that blacks can win out over whites, which makes her feel gratified. The men are criminals technically, fleecing white people out of money and engineering clever ruses; but, since they are black and winning revenge against white people, all Maya can do is admire their brains and their boldness. In a society in which black people are always limited and held back, this seems like a just revenge to most in the black community.

Analysis of Chapter 29

With the arrival of a father figure, and her relationship with her mother on solid footing, Maya's feelings of abandonment are left behind, and her needs for parental love are met. Also, she becomes less wary of men as she was before, after her rape by Mr. Freeman; she is no longer imprisoned in her body, or scornful of her race or gender. Maya is gaining confidence and security in herself as she is growing up, and already we see great changes from being the mute, sullen girl from Stamps.

Still, the animosity toward white people that Maya learned in Stamps continues in San Francisco, as she holds as heroes those men who are able to grift white people out of money. This is certainly ironic to hold these men in such high regard, but they are some of the few examples of black people able to triumph over their situation. They are like outlaws, held in high esteem for their exploits and triumphs by the community. But Angelou poses a good question here; if black people are systematically robbed by a system that keeps them down, aren't they justified in robbing back and regaining a little of their dignity in the process?

Summary of Chapter 30

Maya is invited by her father to spend a vacation with him in southern California; she shops for summer clothes for the trip, and takes the train down to meet her father and her father's girlfriend. Her father's girlfriend is named Dolores, and is very exacting in her standards and in how she orders the small trailer she and Daddy Bailey share. Daddy Bailey works as a cook in a naval hospital, and always prepares very good food at home, which Maya is particularly impressed with.

Dolores is not happy with her lower-middle-class living with Daddy Bailey, and has a lot of pretensions; she is also not fond of Maya at all, and Maya thinks she needs to get off her high horse and be real for once. Daddy Bailey decides to go to Mexico, as he does often, to get provisions for his Mexican cooking; he decides to take Maya, which makes Dolores very jealous. They set out for Mexico without Dolores, and Maya finds it as strange and unusual as she expects. They drive to a tiny town on a mountain-side, with Daddy Bailey drinking as he drives, which is certainly a dangerous thing to do.

Once they get there, they go to a cantina where everyone knows Daddy Bailey; he speaks fluent Spanish, and the people are very friendly to him and Maya. Maya has a good time, drinking Coca Cola and dancing with the locals, but soon it is dark and her father is nowhere to be found. She figures that he must be with one of the women there, and decides to wait by the car until he comes back. He finally makes his way back, very drunk, and propped up by two people; he is put in the back of the car, and falls asleep immediately. Maya is determined not to spend the night in that town; although she has never driven before, she is going to drive the car down the mountain and try to get them home.

Maya figures that she will be able to drive, since she picks things up quickly; so, a man turns the car around for her and leaves the engine on, and she starts off down the mountain. She drives the car down almost by the force of will alone. She gets to the border, but runs into the car in front of her; Mexicans crowd around, and wake her father up since he is still sleeping in the back seat. She tells him she has been in an accident, and he tells her to give the car insurance papers to the guard. He gets out, and talks to the other driver and the border guard; he patches things up with his charm, and then comes back to the car to drive them home. Maya is hurt that he doesn't mention her achievement of driving down the mountain, and mad because half an hour earlier he was helpless, and now he is suddenly better. The rest of the drive home is silent and uncomfortable.

Analysis of Chapter 30

Maya's father presents another case of the theme romance vs. reality at work; Maya thinks that since he acts regal and speaks well, he probably lives in a castle and has plenty of money to throw around. She thinks of him also as being dashing and glamorous, but soon learns better when she's with him. He's a real person with flaws, and he remains distant from her; he isn't the dashing, glowing figure she looked up to when he drove into Stamps.

She soon realizes that he is a lonely person who tries to drown this in drink and by being with women; he didn't belong in Stamps, and feels that he should be something impressive, although he is not. He also leaves her in the bar and goes off with a woman; Maya's feelings of abandonment flare up again at this insult, although she takes the whole thing a bit too hard perhaps.

Here, Maya demonstrates a willful side not often before seen of her. She is bold enough to declare that she is "controlling Mexico" when she manages to steer the car down the mountain, and when she crashes into another car, she is relatively unshaken. She is hardly the meek, quiet girl from Stamps in this scene; she is bold and strong, like her mother. She is also a bit overdramatic about the whole situation; she wants her father to "appreciate the greatness of [her] achievement," thinking that she has accomplished something impressively huge. She expects him to see the situation in the same light she does, but how could he, having thought that Maya could drive and having been asleep for the whole thing?