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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 32

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 32 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 32 | Summary



After leaving the unknown couple's trailer, Maya wanders the streets for a while and then spends time at the public library. Later, she walks by a junkyard full of old cars and gets the idea of spending the night in one. She finds one that seems secure, makes herself comfortable, and falls asleep. She awakens to find a group of teens outside the car wanting to know who she is and why she's there. It turns out they're all homeless, and they've formed a sort of community governed by strict rules.

The homeless teens are led by Bootsie, the tallest boy, and they all work at various jobs and pool their money, which Bootsie holds for community use. In the month that Maya stays at the yard, she learns to drive, curse, and dance. She also reaps other benefits from her month with the homeless children. Their "unquestioning acceptance" of her boosts her self-confidence; and working closely for the first time with peers who are white and Hispanic, as well as African American, shows Maya she's not an outsider and helps to "set a tone of tolerance" that she will carry throughout her life.

After a month, Maya phones her mother, who arranges to send a ticket for her to pick up at the airline. Her new friends wish her well when she tells them she's leaving, and a few give her little parting gifts. Soon she's back in San Francisco, enjoying food her mother has cooked just for her.


Strangely enough, when she ends up homeless and decides to stay at the junkyard, Maya seems to find just the right place to be at the right time in her life. She learns important lessons there about self-reliance, cooperation, and tolerance. This was a time before cell phones, so people didn't keep close tabs on one another's whereabouts as they do now, but still it's interesting that Vivian has no idea Maya had left her father's home and lived in a junkyard for a month. It's not clear that her father is even worried that Maya had disappeared.

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