I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 35

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 35 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 35 | Summary



After reading a book about lesbianism, Maya is confused about how people of the same gender make love. She concludes they must have different body parts—possibly "two of everything." When she begins to notice changes in her own body, she wonders if perhaps she is becoming a lesbian. After all, she has a thin, boyish build, a deep voice, and she isn't nearly as developed as other girls her age. Unable to find information on the topic, she finally asks her mother. Vivian reassures Maya that the changes in her body are perfectly normal and don't mean she's developing into a lesbian.

Maya's doubts about herself resurface when she glimpses and is fascinated by a friend's more developed body. She finally reasons that she doesn't really have any lesbian traits, but she decides she should have sex with a boy to help her clarify the issue. Maya's approach is straightforward. She chooses a handsome, young neighbor and asks him if he wants to have sex with her. Their brief encounter, lacking in romance and passion, is disappointing. Maya still has questions about herself, but she thinks she'll figure it out eventually. A few weeks later she discovers she's pregnant.


In the days before the Internet and the widespread availability of information, it's difficult for Maya to find answers to her questions about sexuality. She doesn't understand the changes in her body and worries about not being "normal." Although her mother's advice is reassuring, Maya feels she needs a boyfriend to reassure herself and others about her femininity. Her decision to take the initiative and "experiment" with sex will have a major effect on her life.

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