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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 22

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 22 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 22 | Summary



One November night as a storm is blowing up, Mr. George Taylor comes to the General Store after it has closed for the night. His wife of 40 years had died a few months earlier. Momma invites him to stay for dinner. He's upset and tells them his wife's ghost had visited him the previous night. Maya remembers how Florida Taylor had liked to touch her face whenever she came to the store. Momma made her go to the funeral because Mrs. Taylor had left Maya a fake gold brooch in her will. In a flashback, Maya recalls being overwhelmed by the sight of Mrs. Taylor's body in the coffin, the sounds of screams and moans, and the cloying death odors of the funeral service. It forces her to confront her own mortality for the first time, and she's shaken by the experience.

Encouraged by Momma, Mr. Taylor tells about being visited by a laughing baby angel and hearing the sound of his wife saying, "I want some children." Maya's vivid imagination takes over, and she's so frightened by the story that it's a major ordeal for her to go through Uncle Willie's dark room to fetch a turning fork from the kitchen for Momma. When she returns with the fork, still shaking, Momma suggests to Mr. Taylor that it may have been a dream. He resists the idea, insisting it was real, but Momma persists. In any case, she says, it was probably a message he should spend time working with children, perhaps teaching a Sunday school class. Then she encourages him to take in a local boy to help him with his farm. Maya, who was really frightened by Mr. Taylor's story, finds that Momma's patient, practical response in the exchange with Mr. Taylor not only calms him, but it calms Maya as well. With the ghouls and shadows banished, Maya crawls into bed with a new respect for Momma's powers.


Maya's superstitious nature and vivid imagination make her susceptible to all sorts of speculation when she hears Mr. Taylor's story about being visited by his dead wife's spirit. Her flashback to Mrs. Taylor's funeral sets her on edge, and having to go through a dark room to fetch a fork for Momma only compounds her fear. The storm outside adds to the gloominess that Maya feels has descended on the house; the shadows in the room seem like ghouls. But Maya doesn't realize her fears were groundless; instead, she thinks Momma is so good she has the power to banish spirits.

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