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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 18 why is Maya angry with the cotton pickers, and what does this show about her personality?

At the beginning of the chapter, Maya describes the cotton pickers as they return from a hard day's work. She seems to empathize with their exhaustion and physical pain, describing their torn clothing and swollen feet. But then she expresses anger because, she says, they "allow themselves" to be worked so hard and then "pretend" things aren't as bad as they are. She thinks the cotton pickers are complicit in allowing themselves to be exploited and oppressed because they downplay their difficulties as "God's will" instead of fighting against the forces of prejudice and discrimination. On the one hand, Maya's observations show she lacks a certain degree of worldliness about the limited options a segregated world allows to many trying to eke out a living in such a system. On the other hand, her ability to form such opinions at a young age works to reveal how keenly observant she is about the power that awareness and determination can have in a person making a better life for themselves.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 19 how does Angelou's writing style convey the excitement in the General Store during the boxing match?

Angelou uses descriptive details to show the General Store is packed with people of all ages, and she uses dialogue to convey the nervous, hopeful mood of the crowd, interspersing this with the radio announcer's voice reporting on the action of the fight. To dramatize the crowd's sinking hopes when Louis seems to be going down, Angelou uses personification and metaphor, comparing his possible defeat to some of the worst abuses of African Americans: "My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree." Repetition and short sentences build suspense and excitement: "We didn't breathe. We didn't hope. We waited." She also uses exaggeration to convey how much the crowd admired Louis's accomplishment: "He was the strongest man in the world."

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 20 why does Maya react to Tommy Valdon's valentine note the way she does?

Maya's first reaction to Tommy Valdon's valentine note is to be suspicious of his motives. After being raped by Mr. Freeman, she's distrustful of receiving any interest from boys. But Maya isn't completely closed minded. She thinks about what kind of person Tommy is, and it weighs heavily in his favor that he's serious minded and a good student. Maya always has had respect for well-educated people. Still, she's only 10, and aside from her traumatic experience in St. Louis, she just may not be ready to cope with having a boyfriend. This is borne out by the fact that after she decides to be nice and talk to him, she can't do anything but giggle whenever she sees him.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, how does Maya change as a result of her friendship with Louise Kendricks?

Until she meets Louise Kendricks, Maya only has Bailey for a friend, and she spends most of her time with adults. When she returns to Stamps from St. Louis after being raped, Maya is withdrawn and isolated. Feeling too adult for her years, Maya has no interest in the typical pastimes of childhood. When she becomes friends with Louise during the summer picnic, Maya reconnects with her girlhood through a connection with someone her own age who is also fun and creative. Together they learn a secret language, share secrets and opinions about boys, and spend lots of time just giggling because, as Maya says, "after all, girls have to giggle."

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 22 why does Mrs. Taylor's funeral have such a strong effect on Maya?

Momma decreed Maya should attend Mrs. Taylor's funeral service because she left Maya a gold-colored brooch in her will. Maya hadn't known Mrs. Taylor well. She was a gentle, older woman who always complimented Maya on her beautiful skin when she came into the General Store. Maya has never been to a funeral before, and she has never thought much about death. But as she sits in the church and listens to the hymns, she is suddenly struck by her own mortality. As part of the service, Maya must join the other children who file past the open coffin and view the corpse. She's overwhelmed by the scent of decay and "the grimness of death."

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 23 what does Maya's reaction to Mr. Donleavy's speech reveal about how she's changed since she first arrived in Stamps?

Maya is furious about Mr. Donleavy's implication that what African American students need to help them succeed in their careers is to be provided with better sports fields and more equipment for home economics and workshop classes. She launches into an interior tirade against the white presumption that African Americans are suited only for sports or service jobs, ending by denouncing the entire human race for not being able to eliminate prejudice and racism. Her strong reaction reveals she has grown to identify with her African American community and is proud to be part of it, as opposed to when she was a little girl who longed to have blue eyes and blonde hair.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 24 why does Maya prefer her version of Momma's confrontation with Dentist Lincoln over what really happened?

Maya is so proud and respectful of Momma that it's painful to see her grandmother accept a subservient role when she interacts with whites. She always wants Momma to demand (and get) respect from whites, and she often feels frustrated Momma doesn't seem to stand up for herself and demand the respect due to her. In her fantasy version of the confrontation, Maya gives Momma superpowers to help her triumph over the dentist. In fact, Momma feels that she did achieve a victory over the dentist. By extracting an extra 10 dollars from him, she's made him pay for his insulting behavior.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapters 1, 8, and 26 what details illustrate Momma's self-sufficiency?

Chapter 1 describes how Momma had started a business selling lunches to workmen in Stamps. First she built a stand, and then she built the General Store "that became the lay center of activities in town." In Chapter 8, even though Momma "owns land and houses," she lives frugally, sewing the clothes for all the family members except Uncle Willie, who prefers store-bought clothes. To keep customers coming to the store during the Depression, she comes up with a plan that allows customers to exchange their welfare rations for goods from the store. In Chapter 26 Momma has never lived anywhere other than the tiny country town of Stamps, but she adapts to big city life amazingly well. She learns "to deal with white landlords, Mexican neighbors and Negro strangers." She shops in supermarkets larger than any she's ever seen, and she learns to navigate the busy streets of Los Angeles. She goes to church and makes friends with whom she shares meals and conversation.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 26 what do the details about Vivian Baxter reveal about her personality?

While driving Maya and Bailey to San Francisco, Vivian talks nonstop, points out interesting places, sings popular songs, tells humorous stories, smokes, and drives with one hand. These actions reveal she's a modern woman with a lively, intelligent personality and a good sense of humor. She's gregarious and is trying hard to engage her children and make them like her. In San Francisco, Vivian throws an impromptu party for Maya and Bailey in the middle of the night, showing unpredictability and a strong sense of fun. She works to support her mother and her children, which shows a sense of responsibility and family loyalty. She takes the children to a variety of ethnic restaurants, which shows she has eclectic interests. She once shot a man for calling her a name, indicating a tendency to lose her temper.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Chapter 27 what details show how Maya feels about San Francisco?

Maya says that in San Francisco, for the first time, she feels as if she she's a part of something. Her old feeling of not belonging disappears in the face of a city in the midst of change: "the air of collective displacement, the impermanence of life in wartime and the gauche personalities of the more recent arrivals." The city has the kind of personality she hopes to have when she's a grownup: it's friendly, cool, distinguished, and always changing. It represents beauty and freedom, and the fog is "a soft breath of anonymity" that surrounds and protects "the bashful traveler." San Francisco, in contrast to Stamps and St. Louis, is also a place where black people are fighting for equality and finding some success in advancement.

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