I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 3

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 3 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 3 | Summary



Maya enjoys helping out at the General Store, taking pride in her accurate weighing and measuring skills. The store is her "favorite place to be" in Stamps. Her lyrical description of the light coming softly into the store in the mornings appeals pleasantly to the senses, making the store an almost magical place. She personifies the store, imagining that by afternoon, it is tired, with "its job half done." In the evenings, the family shares casual, relaxed suppers, and then Maya and Bailey do their evening chores, which include feeding the chickens and hogs.

One evening Mr. Steward, the former sheriff, stops by the store to warn that Willie should "lay low" that night because the Klan will be out looking for an African American man who "messed with a white lady" that day. Maya has seen Klansmen in town, with their "cement faces and eyes of hate," and she's filled with fear at the warning. Even so, she is scornful of Mr. Steward's hypocrisy in telling them about the threat. Momma takes the warning seriously, and Uncle Willie spends an uncomfortable night hiding in a vegetable bin in the store, covered up with a "blanket of vegetables." Maya knows that if the Klan had come to the store that night, they would have found Uncle Willie and would likely have lynched him.


Maya's work at the General Store helps her set goals for herself and builds her self-confidence. For her the store is a warm, welcoming place. Her personification of the store almost makes it seem like a family member, and it, too, has a job to do. The store provides security, community, and "the promise of magic mornings" to the family and to the community.

Mr. Steward's warning about the Klan is an unwelcome interruption in the usual tranquility of evenings at the store. Maya seems to be well aware of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. She understands that according to the Klan, lynching a perfectly innocent African American man would be considered "justice" for a perceived wrong done by another African American man. She resents Mr. Steward's warning because she realizes he's congratulating himself for what he sees as an act of kindness, while at the same time he's enjoying the feeling of power that it gives him. She knows that, while he has no problem warning them, he'd never stand up to the Klan to help defend Uncle Willie.

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