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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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Chapter 9

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 9 of Maya Angelou's autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Chapter 9 | Summary



When Maya is seven, her father pays a surprise visit. Maya and Bailey had "built such elaborate fantasies about him and the elusive mother" that it's a shock to have to face the reality of their handsome, vain, cynical father. Maya is proud of him and thinks he must be rich because he has a nice car and clothes, and he speaks "Proper English, like the school principal." Because he's so handsome and she feels so unattractive, she wonders if he's really her father. After three weeks, Maya begins to tire of the excitement and lack of privacy that comes with his presence. Momma and Uncle Willie also seem relieved when he says he's going back to California. He tells Bailey and Maya he'll take them with him when he leaves. Bailey, who admires his father and has even started to adopt his mannerisms, wants to go, but Maya isn't sure. She'd rather stay, but she can't imagine being separated from Bailey. Although Momma is sad that the children are leaving, she can't seem to express her emotions in words or even tears. Instead, she spends long hours sewing new clothing for Maya.

It isn't until they're on their way in their father's car that he tells them they're going to St. Louis to meet their mother. Maya worries that her mother will laugh at them, as their father does, and she can tell that Bailey is also a little worried. When they finally meet her, Bailey is immediately swept away by the beauty of his "Mother Dear." Maya, too, is impressed, but she can't so easily forget the tears she's shed over being an "unwanted" child. She accepts the affinity between Bailey and their mother, recognizing they share both "physical beauty and personality." To Maya, both of her parents are strangers, and she isn't upset when her father goes back to California.


As proud and excited as Maya is to finally meet her father, his arrival forces her to let go of her fantasies about him and adjust to the reality. He's a stranger to her, and she doesn't take to him as readily as Bailey does. While Bailey eagerly embraces leaving Stamps with their father, Maya has reservations about leaving the town, Momma, Uncle Willie, and the General Store to face an unknown future. Although she doesn't feel that Stamps is truly home, it's the only community she's known, and it's scary to leave, though she finds comfort in still being able to be with Bailey.

Like many people who have grown up having to overcome hardship and be strong, Momma is not one to spend time thinking or talking about her emotions. Instead, she expresses her love through her actions. Just as she took action to protect Uncle Willie by hiding him from the Klan in the store's vegetable bin, she plunges into sewing a new wardrobe for Maya to help prepare her for her new life.

Bailey seems to take to both of his parents immediately, while Maya holds back. She seems to have a good instinct for determining what is genuine, and she doesn't seem to be sure that she likes her father. She's impressed by her mother's beauty and personality, but Maya can't quite forgive her for sending them away.

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