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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 25

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 25 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 25 | Summary



Momma tells Maya and Bailey that she's taking them to California because they're growing up, and they need to be with their parents. Maya suspects the real reason has to do with Bailey. At age 13, he's developed the habit of speaking with an English accent, like some of his favorite actors, and he affects "what he thought were [the] swashbuckling gallantries" of heroes such as D'Artagnan and the Count of Monte Cristo. One day, he comes into the General Store in near shock after being enlisted to help move the bloated, dead body of a murdered African American man that had been pulled out of the pond. He becomes very withdrawn for a while, and then wants to know why whites hate them so much. Maya suspects Momma is worried that Bailey, with all his questioning and quirkiness, will not fare well as a young man in Stamps.

Momma arranges to take Maya by train to Los Angeles, where Bailey Senior lives. Bailey Junior will follow in a month, when the cash will be available. At some point Maya and Bailey will go to their mother, who now lives in San Francisco. Maya is sad to leave her friend Louise in Stamps, and she worries about Uncle Willie being lonely without Momma. Most of all, she's sad about being separated from Bailey. But she feels comforted by the gift that Mrs. Flowers has given to her: the love of books.


Momma wisely understands that Bailey's lively intelligence and questioning nature will make it impossible for him to get along in the South in the way she has—by avoiding confrontation. He can't understand why whites hate African Americans. In a confrontational situation, Bailey's honest desire to understand why he's being discriminated against would likely be interpreted as arrogance, and it wouldn't end well. At that time and in that place, it wasn't safe for an African American boy to draw attention to himself, and Bailey tended to do just that.

This is a turning point in Maya's life. She's leaving the community where she recovered her childhood, acquired her values, and learned to be proud to be African American. Her mother is still a stranger to her, but Momma will stay for a few months in California with her and Bailey, so Maya will continue, for a while, to have the stability of Momma's presence for support.

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