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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 34

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 34 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 34 | Summary



Needing something to distract her and perk up her life, Maya decides she wants to get a job as a streetcar operator. Because of the war, women have replaced men as streetcar conductors, but her mother tells her African Americans aren't accepted for work on streetcars. Maya is determined to try anyway. She pictures herself in the dark blue serge suit that conductors wear, driving a streetcar up and down San Francisco's streets. Maya goes to the streetcar office in response to a job ad and is refused an interview, but she doesn't give up. For three weeks, with her mother's quiet support, she persists in requesting an interview. Finally, she is given an application to fill out. She makes up information about her age and experience (she's only 15), and she gets the job and the blue serge suit. She's the first African American female conductor on San Francisco streetcars. Maya operates streetcars for an entire semester. Her mother gives her full support, driving Maya to the car barn for her split shifts at different hours of the day and night.

When she returns to school, it seems to Maya that the interests and concerns of her schoolmates are childish, and she can't relate to them. Her classes seem boring, and she begins to cut them to spend time walking in the park or along the streets. Vivian discovers Maya's truancy and tells her she can skip school as long as she lets her mother know and keeps her grades up. Maya stops skipping school, but she continues to feel bored with it. She feels frustrated by the demands of growing up, noting the feeling of being caught in the "tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power."


In pursuing a job as a streetcar conductor, Maya is taking up a racial challenge. She has come a long way from the little African American girl in the lavender dress who wanted to be white. Now she's proud to be African American, and she's ready to push back against racial discrimination. She does so more as a personal goal than as an attempt to make a grand statement about job discrimination.

When she goes back to school, much of Maya's discontent and boredom might be related to the absence of Bailey from her life. Even though they'd grown apart before he left, they had spent time together, as when they went out to dance, and at least he was there. Maya is bound to feel lonely without his presence.

Vivian's handling of Maya's truancy, as well as her support of Maya's streetcar job, shows she has good mothering skills. She's protective of Maya but allows her the freedom to follow her interests and dreams. While many parents would have dealt with truancy by becoming stricter, Vivian allows Maya more freedom, and Maya modifies her behavior on her own.

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