I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 30

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 30 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 30 | Summary



Maya takes the train to southern California to spend her summer vacation with Daddy Bailey. Because of her father's airs, Maya hopes he lives in a mansion, but the disappointing reality is that he lives in a trailer park "on the outskirts of a town that was itself the outskirts of town." His young girlfriend, Dolores, who also puts on airs, keeps the house "clean with the orderliness of a coffin." Maya finds it difficult to live up to the housekeeping standards Dolores sets, and Daddy mostly stays removed from the fray. Daddy Bailey is an excellent cook and often prepares elaborate dinners. He drives across the border to Mexico every week to buy ingredients for his Mexican specialties. When he decides to take Maya on one of his trips to Mexico, she's surprised but pleased. He hasn't taken her to see any local sites or done anything special with her since she arrived. He speaks excellent Spanish and says the trip will help Maya improve her Spanish, which is only passable. The next morning they set out for Mexico, leaving Dolores, who hasn't been invited to come, behind.

At the border Daddy and the border guard share Daddy's bottle of liquor in the guard's kiosk while Maya waits in the car. A half hour later they leave, after Daddy, speaking Spanish, asks the guard if he'd like to marry Maya, saying she's only 15. Daddy laughs when the guard says they could make many babies. Singing and drinking, Daddy drives along mountain roads and finally pulls in at a cantina, about five miles from Ensenada. Daddy is well-known by everyone at the bar, and Maya sees a different side of him. She sees him as a lonely person who never felt at home in Stamps or in the Johnson family. He hasn't found a place in the world that matched his aspirations, and he distracts himself with drink, women, and grand airs.

In the festive atmosphere of the cantina, Maya is persuaded to join in the dancing, and she's been enjoying herself for some time when she notices Daddy isn't among the crowd. She panics, wondering if perhaps he really had sold her to the guard and has gone home without her. When she sees the car is still there, she relaxes, knowing he's with a woman. He eventually turns up, but he's been drinking too much to drive and climbs into the back seat to sleep it off. Maya doesn't want to spend the night in the car in Mexico, so, never having driven before, she decides she can figure out how to drive well enough to get them home. Amazingly she makes it down the winding mountain road without incident, reveling in the feeling that she's "controlling Mexico, and might and aloneness and inexperienced youth, and Bailey Johnson Sr. and death and insecurity, and even gravity."

But at the border crossing, she has a minor collision with another car. Daddy Bailey finally wakes up and, using his charm and his excellent Spanish, he sorts everything out and drives them home.


Maya has never had a chance to get to know her father, but she's had plenty of time to build fantasies about what his life is like. The reality, of course, is far different from what she'd imagined, but Maya seems to take the disappointment in stride. The fact that up until the trip to Mexico he doesn't make any special plans with Maya is evidence of his self-centered personality and lack of paternal qualities. The insight into her father's personality that Maya has while at the Mexican cantina is more forgiving. She sees him as a lonely, unfulfilled man who hasn't found his place in the world.

Maya's decision to drive down the mountain road while her father sleeps in the backseat is surprising. It shows her self-confidence has greatly improved since her days in Stamp, Arkansas—maybe too much, since her decision could have ended in a tragic accident. In describing the exhilaration she feels while steering the car down the mountain road, Maya describes herself in terms that call up images of the comic-book heroes she enjoys so much. She sees herself as being in control not only of the car, but of a whole list of things that she's been struggling with in her life.

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