I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-12

Summary of Chapter 7

Angelou describes her Momma; she is tall, big, and strong, and leads in the hymns at church every Sunday. She is old-fashioned, though, as she teaches the children to behave as she was to behave as a child, and teaches them to act according to outdated racial codes of behavior. Angelou has a problem with this, since she sees that many white people don't deserve her Momma's courtesy, and these rules should be done away with. However, Momma does hold a certain standing in the community; there is a story about how she was called Mrs. in court, by mistake since she is black, but how many saw this as just confirming the respect she has in Stamps.

Analysis of Chapter 7

Perhaps it is ironic that a woman as strong and bold as Momma refuses to challenge the treatment she receives from the white people in the town. But even she is ruled by lessons learned years ago, that young people like Maya and her brother Bailey are beginning to reject. This difference of opinion, which both Maya and her Momma feel strongly about, foreshadows a possible confrontation over the issue later in the book. Since Maya strongly feels that her Momma is being too weak, and Momma stubbornly refuses to follow any rules other than the ones she already knows, there will almost certainly be a rift between them based on changing attitudes toward racial codes and discrimination.

Summary of Chapter 8

The huge economic divide between the white and black communities of Stamps is noted; white people have plenty of clothes and can afford to be charitable and spend too much, and still they have enough for themselves. In the black community, people can hardly afford to give anything away, so when they do, it is much appreciated. Even though Momma has land and money, even she doesn't spend money like the white people do, budgeting carefully and never wasting anything. Even Momma makes all of the clothes for herself and the children, and only buys Uncle Willie expensive, ready-made clothes and shoes.

The depression hits Stamps, and leads to wages being cut and difficulty making ends meet. That also means that they can't afford to shop at the store, and Momma has to figure out how to keep the store running and still make money. She allows the townspeople to trade the relief food that they get for credit at the store, and is able to keep things going there.

Christmas comes, and Maya and Bailey get presents from their parents, who they hadn't heard of since they were shipped off to Stamps. Neither of them wanted to be reminded of their parents and being sent away, and are very sad that their parents have suddenly reappeared in their lives. But, Bailey cheers them up with the thought that perhaps their mother is preparing to come and get them, and the thought of that makes both children happy.

Analysis of Chapter 8

The theme of economic division becomes clear, as the racial divide between blacks and whites in the town perpetuates an economic divide along those same racial lines. Not only do blacks have to endure social and political subordination, but they are also unable to make as much money as any of the white people are. Angelou's tone, when she notes that black people don't have nearly as much, isn't bitter about their lack of money and things; rather, she casts white people as flippant and impractical, since they don't know how to survive off of what they have nearly as well as the black community can.

The fact that Bailey and Maya being assured that their parents are still alive and do remember them causes them grief is definitely ironic. One would expect that they would be happy to receive any word or presents from their parents, but it brings up far more painful issues for them. The theme of abandonment will be important in their young lives, as they are reclaimed and shipped off by their parents several times in the course of the book; this is one of the feelings that really influences their childhood, and also undermines their happiness.

Summary of Chapter 9

Maya and Bailey's father comes to Stamps the next year, to see his children; neither of them were warned that he was coming, and it is hard for them to face their father in the flesh and give up the fantasies they had about their absent father. He is tall and handsome, and more proper and wealthy than the people in Stamps. Maya is happy that he is there, but then thinks that if people see her and her father together, their dissimilarity in looks will make people think she is not his daughter. When he announces that he is leaving, all but Bailey are relieved, as his presence is hard on the family.

Then, he says that he is taking Maya and Bailey with him. Of course, they are happy at first that he wants them to go with him; Maya goes with Bailey, since she couldn't stay behind without Bailey. But, when their father tells them that he is just taking them to their mother's place in St. Louis, they are hurt; they thought they were going with him to California, but he is going to dump them off again, and this time with a mother that they don't even know.

When they finally do meet their mother, though, they are completely taken with her; she is very beautiful and charming, and Maya and Bailey are no longer nervous or sad at being taken away from Stamps. Maya thinks her mom is too pretty to have been a mother, and sees that she and Bailey are already taking a shine to each other; Bailey will probably be her favorite, but Maya will just deal with that. Their father leaves, and Maya is indifferent because he is still a stranger to them.

Analysis of Chapter 9

Angelou describes seeing her father after years of absence as "[shredding her] inventions like a hard yank on a paper chain"; the metaphor tells of how difficult it can be to give up one's fantasies and ideas in the face of a less pleasant reality. This theme of reality vs. illusion comes up several times, and it is often more pleasant and reassuring to believe in one's own illusions, rather than face up to what is real and flawed.

The images and words chosen to represent St. Louis tell of the children's fear of this new place, and their apprehension at being taken to live with someone they don't know. The "crowded-together, soot-covered buildings" are completely alien, and a bit bleak to them. They may have been driving "to Hell" for all the children knew, with their uncertainty and fear coloring the strange landscape. She begins to believe in "Grownups' Betrayal," as again they are being let down by their father; her tone reveals her hurt and bitterness at being reclaimed by their father, only to be sent away once again.

Angelou describes her mother as being like "a hurricane in its perfect power," or "the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow"; these metaphors convey that Maya's mother is a flawless work of nature, vibrant, powerful, and very beautiful. Maya seems to admire her from afar, too, like you would admire a rainbow from afar; but the instant power of the children's love for her is encapsulated in the two cliched phrases "struck dumb" and "love at first sight." Although Maya might feel a bit distant from her mother, nevertheless the love she feels brings them a little closer.

Summary of Chapter 10

Maya talks about her maternal grandmother, Grandmother Baxter; she is nearly white, and was raised by a German family before moving to St. Louis. The city is full of gamblers, cheats, and generally debauched characters, but her grandmother is able to deal with them well, especially since she has several able-bodied sons who defend her. She negotiates with them; in exchange for her getting them out of trouble with the police, they bring in the vote as they are told to.

Maya and Bailey find that most of the students in their new school are ignorant, and that they are years ahead of their classmates in learning and behavior. The school and the teachers are very different; the teachers are distant, formal people, unlike the teachers in Stamps, who usually live with local families, and whose every move is watched. But, even though both are moved up a grade, they learn nothing new.

Then Angelou discusses her mother, how she was a great dancer and singer, and taught them to dance too; she is very beautiful, and when the children go to the bar with her, her friends give Maya and Bailey sodas and are very kind. Her mother had three brothers, who were all a bit rough and ruthless: when their mother was insulted by a local man, they cornered him, while Maya's mother beat him up. They are very protective of their family, but their brutality is certainly excessive. Angelou explains how she got the name ŒMaya'; it was a name her brother gave her, after calling her Œmya sister' for years.

Maya and Bailey move in with their mother, after living with their grandparents for a number of months; they have nice clothes and their own room, and are very grateful since their mother could choose to send them back to Stamps. Their mother's boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, lives with them; Maya thinks that he is OK, but not good or intelligent enough to really deserve her mother.

Analysis of Chapter 10

The vastly different ways of living in the city become clear to young Maya; St. Louis is full of gambling and sin, and people don't know each other as well. There isn't as strong a sense of community either: people aren't quite as concerned with each other's well-being, but at the same time, people are also not as nosy and gossipy about their neighbors. It also seems like some, especially the teachers, are trying to imitate the manners of white people; this brings up the issue of black culture, for in the South black people seem to have a way of life that is distinct from that of whites, but in St. Louis, those lines tend to blur more.

Parent-child love becomes a prominent theme of this section of the book; Maya's love for her mother is very plainly stated, and she begins to enjoy the city because her mother loves her too. Her mother is still ethereal and very beautiful; "she was like a pretty kite that floated just above my head" is how she is described, the simile showing how Maya regarded her mother as something greater than herself. Angelou alludes to the Virgin Mary, to explain how ethereal, perfect, and beautiful her mother is. Also, Maya and her brother finally have the luxury of an extended family; they are supported and protected by their uncles and grandparents, and feel safe and at home in this close circle.

The violence that Maya's uncles will perpetrate later is foreshadowed in this section; it is established that they are brutal, very protective of their family, and bad-tempered, which will mean trouble for anyone who tries to mess with the family. Although here, Maya says that she admired them as a child, things will soon change. Although they are well-meaning and good to the children, they are also too violent for their own good.

Summary of Chapter 11

Maya soon begins to regard St. Louis like a foreign country, and thinks that she is just visiting, as opposed to living there. Their mother, although she is a nurse, just earns extra money dealing poker games; Mr. Freeman made most of the money that supported them. Their mother works at night, which means they are trusted to do their homework, eat dinner, and wash the dishes while she is gone. Maya and Bailey begin to have nightmares, and Maya gets used to sleeping in her mother's bed, with Mr. Freeman too.

Mr. Freeman molests Maya one morning; she knows little about sex other than it exists, and is a bit stunned by the experience. But, he also holds her and makes her feel loved afterward, which makes her feel much easier about the whole experience. He threatens to kill Bailey if she ever tells, and makes her embarrassed to tell her mother by pretending that she had wet the bed. Maya is hungry for fatherly affection, but Mr. Freeman exploits this by molesting and later raping her. Maya says she wanted to be a boy as a child, so that she could be like a heroic figure in the comics, and end up winning in life.

Analysis of Chapter 11

This chapter and the one following focus on what is probably the most traumatic event of Maya's young life‹her rape by Mr. Freeman, her mother's boyfriend. In writing this chapter, Angelou reminds us of a child's naivete and lack of knowledge about sex; she also recalls her feelings in vivid detail, helping the reader to understand what happened to her, and how it affected her. So far, Maya has been able to trust adults to look after her and protect her; but here, that trust is violated in a terrible way, and as a child, it is hard for Maya to understand.

The theme of parent-child love plays into this whole scenario; Maya has always lacked a father, and sees Mr. Freeman as a surrogate father figure. All she wants from him is love and acknowledgement, but unfortunately, that is not what she gets from him. The disconnect between the world and understanding of a child and the world of an adult becomes clear; children are used to trusting people and want love, and do not understand the adult world of sex and betrayals and being hurt. This disconnection means that Maya will be harshly affected by this event in her life, and will lose part of her childhood and her happiness because of it.

Maya also begins to see gender as a major issue, and a possible hindrance. She sees the difference in gender roles and representations in the books and comics she reads; and, she begins to think that her life would be better as a boy, and she would be able to do more. The theme of gender is very important in Maya's story, as she will have to struggle against limiting roles and perceptions in order to become who she wants to be.

Summary of Chapter 12

Mr. Freeman sends Maya (or Ritie, as they call her) to get some milk; when she gets home, he rapes her, and she isn't able to get away from him. She feels sick and horrible afterward; she was physically hurt by Mr. Freeman, as well as mentally hurt. She takes to her bed, and her mother thinks she is sick; although she does not like what has happened to her, and is in great pain, still she intends not to tell her mother or brother what has happened.

Even before her mother finds out what has happened, Mr. Freeman is sent packing and leaves the house. Maya thinks that maybe she should tell, but wonders if her brother and mother would love her afterwards if she told them what happened. She thinks that she is dying, but still cannot tell; then her brother and mother find her stained panties as they are changing the sheets, and know what happened to her.

Analysis of Chapter 12

By this point, Maya has given up all hope of Mr. Freeman becoming a father to her; she no longer wants love or approval from him. Still, she is unable to understand what has happened to her; pain makes her think that she has done something very bad, since she also doesn't realize that she has done nothing wrong. She also becomes afraid of Mr. Freeman, for the first time, as his sinister and abusive qualities become clear.

When writing about this incident, Angelou focuses on the after-effects; the physical pain after it, trying to realize what had happened, being unable to tell what had happened. She is nearly helpless because she can't tell anyone, and the pain she feels makes her guilty, as if she did a bad thing. Angelou takes us into her mind as a child, explaining how a child reacts to trauma, and how deeply such events can affect them. She uses metaphors to convey the feelings, without resorting to graphic descriptions; she explains the physical affects of the rape as "the needle giving because the camel can't," and afterward thinks that her "hips seemed to be coming out of their sockets." Angelou spends less time discussing the actual physical act against her, because the mental, lasting effects are far more devastating than even the horrible pain she experiences.

The theme of imprisonment is also key to this chapter; Maya is imprisoned in a body that is not only black, but female, making her vulnerable to Mr. Freeman's attack. She can escape from neither of these physical realities, and the prejudice or misfortune that both being black and female might cause for her.