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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 13

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 13 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 13 | Summary



Maya is sent to the hospital, where Bailey persuades her to tell him who raped her. Her grandmother and her uncles rally around her, and Mr. Freeman is arrested. At the trial, Maya is asked if Mr. Freeman had ever touched her before the rape. At eight years old, Maya isn't sure how to answer. She's afraid that if she tells the truth and says yes, people will think that she "had helped him to do it." She finally lies and says no. Mr. Freeman is sentenced to a year and a day in prison, but "his lawyer (or someone) got him released" that same day. Later at Grandmother Baxter's, the family gets word that Mr. Freeman has been found beaten to death. Grandmother Baxter forbids anyone from ever mentioning the situation again.

Believing that her lie caused Mr. Freeman's death, Maya is convinced that she's filled with evil. She thinks if she opens her mouth the evil will escape and harm people, so she resolves to speak only to Bailey, knowing that because she loves him so much she could never hurt him. She stops speaking and concentrates on listening, allowing sound to surround her until it melds together into a kind of silence. After a while, the family becomes impatient with Maya's silence, and they begin to punish her for it. Finally, the family sends Maya and Bailey back to Stamps. Bailey is heartbroken about having to leave his Mother Dear, but Maya is indifferent to the move. She cares only that Bailey is unhappy.


Maya has been through a traumatic experience, and it doesn't seem she's received any counseling or advice about how to deal with it. At that time, rape was an even more taboo subject than it is now; people simply didn't talk about it. Grandmother Baxter forbids the family from ever bringing up the subject, so Maya is left to deal with it on her own. Maya's confusion and guilty feelings about her lie in court and Mr. Freeman's death cause her to become a virtual mute.

To make matters worse, Maya must realize her uncles are the most likely people to have killed Mr. Freeman. The Baxters have shown they're not a very nurturing family. Momma isn't overtly nurturing, but as Maya says in Chapter 9, "a deep-brooding love hung over everything she touched." Momma is strict and demanding, but she has an innate kindness that may be just what Maya needs at this point in time.

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