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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 11

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 11 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 11 | Summary



Maya decides she doesn't really feel at home in St. Louis: she dislikes the noise, the bustle, and even the packaged food. Hearkening back to the poem she recited back in Stamps, she knows she "didn't come to stay" and escapes by reading fantasy and adventure stories. Although Maya's mother is qualified to be a nurse, she prefers the more glamorous job of running poker games in gambling parlors. The children have their routine of homework, dinner, washing dishes, and then listening to radio programs. Mr. Freeman's routine consists of working at the railroad yard and then just waiting for Vivian to come home. He has almost no interaction with Maya and Bailey.

Because she suffers from nightmares, Maya develops the habit of sleeping in her mother's bed. One morning her mother leaves early, and when Maya awakens, Mr. Freeman is sexually abusing her. Maya knows little about sex. Mr. Freeman doesn't rape her, but when he finishes he holds Maya close for a time, and she feels so safe and protected that she thinks perhaps he's her real father. He then gets up, tells her that she peed in the bed, and that he'll kill Bailey if she ever tells anyone what they did. Maya is confused, but she's afraid to ask Bailey for advice. Growing up in Momma's family hadn't included hugs or physical contact, and Maya had liked the feeling of being held by Mr. Freeman. He ignores her for a time, and, wanting a hug, one day she takes it upon herself to sit on his lap. Once again he sexually abuses her, letting her slip to the floor when he finishes.

Mr. Freeman ignores Maya for several months, and she puts their encounters out of her mind. She and Bailey seem to be growing apart, and she spends more and more time at the library or with her grandparents and uncles.


Maya has settled into her new life, but she knows she still hasn't found a place that feels like home, a place where she wants to stay. Her mother's glamorous, unstructured lifestyle may be the reason Maya finds it difficult to feel close to her. Maya's family isn't physically demonstrative, and she's never had the experience of being cuddled and comforted by a parent. She knows almost nothing about sex, so when Mr. Freeman abuses her, all she focuses on is that being held close makes her feel cared for and protected. Because she doesn't feel close to her mother, it's Bailey she wants to talk to about this confusing experience, but she can't do that because Mr. Freeman might kill him. For the first time she must keep a secret from Bailey, which must make her feel lonelier than ever.

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