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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 26

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 26 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 26 | Summary



When Maya and Momma arrive in California, she is struck by the contrast between her mother, Vivian, and Momma as they embrace on the train platform. Momma is a "large, solid dark hen," and Mother is a "blithe chick," nuzzling the hen. After settling Momma and Maya in an apartment in Los Angeles, Mother returns to San Francisco to find a place where Maya and Bailey will join her. Bailey Junior arrives in Los Angeles the following month, and Momma, Bailey, and Maya stay there for about six months.

Looking back on that time, Angelou marvels at Momma's ability to adjust to big city life, where she "shopped in supermarkets larger than the town she came from." Momma goes back to Arkansas when Mother comes for Maya and Bailey, and Maya is sad to be without her. She feels apprehensive because she doesn't really know her mother. They stay for a time in Oakland with Grandmother Baxter and uncles Tommy and Billy.

Life is very different from Arkansas for the siblings. No one supervises their school work, Sunday movies replace Sunday church services, and Mother is full of unpredictable and interesting surprises. She runs card games at saloons for a living and is popular and well-liked, but she is also given to passionate but "fair" (according to Maya) outbursts of temper. Most notably, she once shot a business partner who was treating her badly. Soon after the beginning of World War II, Mother marries Daddy Clidell, a successful businessman, and they move, with Maya and Bailey, to San Francisco. The Baxter relatives stay in Oakland.


The image Angelou uses to describe the meeting of Momma and Mother on the train platform aptly illustrates their personalities. Momma represents stability and traditional values, while Mother represents change and modern values. Momma's strict traditional mothering style has seen Maya through her childhood. Now, as Maya enters adolescence, Mother will take over with a looser, more modern mothering style.

Maya's description of Mother is so overwhelmingly positive that the narrator's reliability is suspect. Vivian's job of running card games must keep her away from home in the evenings, but Maya asserts she supports them well and they are happy to be with her. The story about Vivian shooting her business partner is presented as being completely justified, but it's difficult to understand how shooting a man twice for cursing at her can be justified, even if she did warn him. Similarly, Maya defends her mother's outbursts of temper as fair, which seems contradictory.

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