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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 10

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 10 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 10 | Summary



Grandmother Baxter is of mixed race and looks "nearly white." Raised in Illinois by a German family, she speaks with a German accent. Grandfather Baxter, from the West Indies, is black. In the mid-1930s, the African American section of St. Louis has "all the finesse of a gold rush town." Tough characters such as crooks and gamblers loiter on the streets. They also often turn up in Grandmother Baxter's living room because, as a precinct captain, she has considerable influence with the police department. She gets favors for the crooks, and they bring in votes in exchange. Her six "mean" children also help her consolidate her power in the neighborhood.

Maya enjoys being introduced to new foods and experiences in St. Louis, but school is a disappointment. She and Bailey are so far ahead of their classmates that they're both moved up a grade. The teachers are formal and distant, and they compare unfavorably with the teachers in Stamps. Maya's mother, Vivian, is seldom at home and sometimes has the children visit her at Louie's Tavern where she works. Maya's mean and bad-tempered uncles, Tutti, Tom, and Ira, are prone to beating up people in retaliation for perceived insults. Maya likes her Uncle Tommy, who often tells her not to worry that she's not pretty. He assures her it's better to have a good mind than it is to be pretty. After six months of living with Grandmother Baxter, Maya and Bailey move to their mother's apartment. Mother's boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, lives with them. He's fat and flabby and is older than Mother.


The Baxter family in St. Louis is a world away from Momma and Uncle Willie in Stamps. For all their differences, there are certain similarities between Grandmother Baxter and Momma. Both are strong, powerful women who command the loyalty and respect of their families. Of course Momma would never tolerate the meanness of the Baxter uncles. Maya seems awed by the Baxters and the colorful characters who surround them. Maya takes her new life in St. Louis in stride and has no desire to return to Stamps, but she still feels a certain distance from her glamorous mother. It's not surprising that Maya takes to her mean, tough uncles because they are fiercely loyal to each other and to the family. Her uncle Tommy's sound advice about intelligence being more important than good looks suggests that he, at least, has redeeming virtues.

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