I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Course Hero, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide," October 13, 2016, accessed September 23, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/I-Know-Why-the-Caged-Bird-Sings/.

Chapter 20

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 20 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 20 | Summary



Maya wanders away from the Stamps summer picnic fish fry—with all of its fabulous foods, music, and fun activities—to find a private spot in a small clearing in the woods. When she leans back against a tree trunk and looks up at a blue patch of sky, she has the sensation of falling into the sky. Louise Kendricks, a schoolmate, comes into the clearing, sits down next to Maya, and has the same experience. Soon Maya and Louise are laughing and playing a spinning game. At age 10, Maya has made her first friend. They teach themselves a secret language and spend hours giggling together.

One day Tommy Valdon sends Maya a note asking her to be his valentine. At first Maya is suspicious of his motives, but she knows he's a serious person and a good student, so she decides he isn't playing a prank. She doesn't want to be anyone's valentine, and Louise advises her to just ignore it. She and Louise tear up the note after school, but the next day, when the teacher reads aloud everyone's valentine cards, there's a letter to Maya from Tommy. He says that he saw her tear up his note and doesn't think she wanted to hurt his feelings, so he'll always be her valentine anyway. Maya decides she'll start to be nice to him, but each time she sees him she can do nothing but giggle, and eventually he loses interest.


Angelou describes the sights and sounds of the picnic with great sensory detail. The long list of mouth-watering foods, the activities of children playing, people fishing, women cooking, and the sounds of the gospel group combine to make the setting come alive. The positive, pleasant images of the description suggest Maya appreciates and enjoys the community feeling exhibited at the picnic. Yet she's not ready to join in with the activities and finds a quiet place in the woods to enjoy looking at a patch of sky. Louise Kendricks, the new friend Maya makes there, is described as "a lonely girl, although she had plenty of playmates." Because Maya, too, is a lonely girl, it may be this air of sadness that helps Maya feel comfortable enough with Louise to begin her first friendship.

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