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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 31

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 31 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 31 | Summary



After Maya and her father return, Dolores argues with Daddy Bailey, claiming he's allowing his children to come between them. He storms out the door, leaving Dolores in tears. Maya thinks it was cruel of her father to go to Mexico without Dolores, and she decides to try to console her as a good deed. She tells Dolores she has no intention of coming between her and her father and is satisfied that her gesture shows her "in a favorable and Christian light." But Dolores is angry and calls Maya's mother a whore. Maya slaps Dolores and Dolores goes for Maya. They struggle and Maya finally pushes Dolores onto the sofa and leaves the house. While Dolores is inside screaming, Maya discovers she's bleeding from a cut in her side. Then, still screaming, Dolores comes running outside with a hammer in her hand. Maya jumps into her father's car and locks the doors.

Daddy Bailey has been visiting neighbors, and hearing the screams they come outside to calm Dolores down. After Daddy takes Dolores inside, he comes back outside and discovers Maya is bleeding. To avoid a scandal and protect his reputation in the community, instead of taking her to an emergency room, he takes her to some married friends and asks the wife to clean and bandage the wound. The blood in the cut has already started to clot, which is disappointing to Maya, as she's already been planning for her death. Then her father takes Maya to other friends in a different trailer park where she spends the night.

When she wakes up in the morning, she's alone in the trailer. Her father stops by in the morning to check on her and tells her he'll be back in the evening. Alone in the trailer, Maya doesn't want to face the couple when they return, and she doesn't think Dad or Dolores would mind much if she disappears. So she makes some sandwiches, takes a supply of Band-Aids, and leaves the trailer, suddenly homeless. The one thing she knows is that she can't go home to her mother because Vivian would be sure to notice the gash in Maya's side, and violence could result. Maya thinks guiltily about what happened to "poor Mr. Freeman."


When Maya decides to console Dolores, she may be feeling a little too full of herself after what she views as her heroic driving experience. A hero should be well-liked by everyone, including the likes of Dolores, and Maya seems to think that Dolores will be grateful for her sympathy. Instead, Maya's approach is perceived as condescending and disrespectful.

Just as Maya has a tendency toward melodrama in her acting classes, her reaction to being cut is over the top. She seems to imagine herself as the heroine of a romance novel as she imagines her death in dramatic images. She's disappointed when her wound turns out to be minor.

It's difficult to know whether Maya's assessment of how her mother would react to her injury is accurate. It's true Vivian is known for being short-tempered, and she's capable of being violent. While Maya's adolescent fantasies and exaggerations at this point make her a somewhat unreliable narrator, there is the Baxter family history of cruelty and violence.

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