I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 12

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 12 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 12 | Summary



Months go by, and one spring day Mr. Freeman approaches Maya again, but this time he rapes her. He threatens to kill her if she screams and says he'll kill Bailey if she tells anyone. She passes out from the pain and when she wakes up, Mr. Freeman is washing her. He tells her to get dressed and sends her off to the library. But at the library, Maya is in so much pain that she soon returns home and goes to bed, hiding her stained underpants under the mattress. Maya feels ill and is unable to eat, and her mother fusses over her, thinking she's coming down with measles.

Mr. Freeman comes into her room and threatens her about not telling. That night Vivian and Mr. Freeman argue, and the next day Maya learns he has moved out. She wonders if it's now safe to tell Bailey what happened but fears Bailey won't forgive her. She decides she can't tell her mother because if God would let her be in so much pain she must have done something very bad. She's feverish and her mother asks Bailey to change the sheets. When he does, the stained panties fall at her mother's feet.


Angelou uses the vivid image of a camel going through the eye of a needle to describe the effect of rape on an eight-year-old's body. Maya doesn't describe how she feels about being raped; she can't because she doesn't quite understand what has happened to her. She only knows how she feels: her hips hurt so much she can hardly sit, and she feels as if she's on fire from the pit of her stomach to her thighs. Feeling isolated in her confusion and pain, she's unable to tell either her mother or Bailey.

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