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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 33

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 33 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 33 | Summary



Maya feels more grown-up when she returns to San Francisco, and Bailey has changed, too. His new friends are "slick street boys," and he's grown apart from Maya, which is painful to her. One thing she and Bailey still enjoy sharing is a love of dancing. They go to big band dances and dance the jitterbug, the Lindy, and the Big Apple to famous bands like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Bailey's obsession with his mother is leading to conflict at home. At age 16, he takes up with a white prostitute and adopts a style of dress that's a gaudy interpretation of the expensive styles worn by the men his mother likes.

When Bailey repeatedly stays out past his curfew, he and his mother argue and she orders him to leave the house. He packs up and leaves in the middle of the night, with Maya feeling helpless to intervene. The next day, Maya goes to see Bailey at the seedy boarding house where his prostitute lives. Bailey assures Maya he's a man now and it's time for him to "cut the apron strings and face life on his own." He says their mother came to see him earlier that morning and is going to arrange to get him a job on the railroad. He plans to begin as a dining-car worker and then "branch out." Maya wants to bring Bailey back to reality, but she doesn't have the heart or the words to penetrate "his unlucky armor." She leaves, knowing she can't do anything to change his course.


It seems that while Maya has been finding herself and developing a sense of self-worth, Bailey has been floundering. The reason may be, as Maya suggests, his obsession with Mother and with gaining her approval, or it may be the normal adolescent desire to break away from parental control. When Maya goes to see him at the rooming house, she knows he's not being realistic about his future plans. He rambles on in clichés about his grand plan for success, and it seems that, like his father, he doesn't quite know how to find a place for himself in life that will be fulfilling and give him a sense of self-worth.

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