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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 19

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 19 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 19 | Summary



The General Store is jam-packed with local families who have come to listen to the radio broadcast of a boxing match between the Brown Bomber Joe Louis and a white boxer named Carnera. The crowd in the store is rooting for Louis. When it looks as if he's going down, Maya says, "My race groaned. It was our people falling." If Louis loses, she says, it will seem to validate the myths that African Americans are "stupid and ugly and lazy and dirty and that God Himself hated us and drawers of water, forever and ever, world without end." But Louis wins the match, and the people in the store celebrate the victory for more than an hour, happy in the knowledge that an African American man is capable of triumphing over a white man. The chapter ends with a dose of reality as Angelou mentions that people who lived far from the store had arranged to stay in town for the night because it could be dangerous "for a Black man and his family to be caught on a lonely country road" that night.


For the African American community, Joe Louis is a symbol representing the hope of challenging and triumphing over white prejudice and oppression. In Maya's description of the fight, the white boxer's name isn't even mentioned until the fight is almost over. His name isn't important because he's only a symbol of racial dominance. Maya lists the myths about the inferiority of African Americans that were often used to try to justify racial discrimination. The hope is that a win by Louis will prove the untruth of these myths. In her narration, Angelou dramatizes the scene in the General Store during the fight, effectively conveying the excitement and the air of jubilation. At the end of the chapter, the reminder that danger lurks on the roads at night for African American families provides a sober dose of reality.

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