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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 28

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 28 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 28 | Summary



At her first high school in San Francisco, Maya encounters prejudice and mean, tough fellow students. Then she transfers to a school in a white district where she is one of only three African Americans. She dreads having to take the bus through the white neighborhoods, with their "neat streets, smooth lawns, white houses and rich children." In school she's disappointed she's not among the top students and finds the white students have better vocabularies. One special teacher, Miss Kirwin, makes Maya's time there worthwhile. Maya particularly appreciates that Miss Kirwin treats her the same way she treats the other students. Maya is given a scholarship to the California Labor School, where she takes evening classes with adults in drama and dance. She learns to shed her shyness and is determined to learn to float across the floor and do an arabesque, like her teacher.


This chapter touches on themes of racism and finding community. Maya feels uncomfortable traveling to school through the white neighborhood. Her teacher Miss Kirwin is special to Maya because she treats Maya with respect and without regard for the color of her skin. Maya's position as just an average student in this school highlights how segregation put limits on academic achievement for African Americans. Although she'd applied herself well in Stamps and was at the top of her class, the standards in the white school are higher. By accepting the scholarship to study drama and dance, Maya is seeking and finding a place in the arts community. This will turn out to be an important step leading to the path of her later career where she branched out into multiple forms of artistic expression.

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