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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings | Quotes


If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.

Maya, Introduction

Maya's awareness of her displacement, or feeling of "not belonging," is forced on her at a very young age when she is sent to live with her grandmother. Like rust on a razor, it adds to the pain of being the target of racism.


The tragedy of lameness seems so unfair to children that they are embarrassed in its presence.

Maya, Chapter 2

Angelou offers an explanation for why children have a tendency to make fun of those who are disabled.


He must have tired of being crippled, as prisoners tire of penitentiary bars and the guilty tire of blame.

Maya, Chapter 2

In speculating about Uncle Willie's reasons for pretending for out-of-town customers he wasn't lame, Angelou compares him to a prisoner behind bars and calls to mind the image of the caged bird of the book's title.


Alone and empty in the mornings, it looked like an unopened present from a stranger. Opening the front doors was pulling the ribbon off the unexpected gift.

Maya, Chapter 3

Maya's comparison of the General Store in the mornings to an unopened present conveys feelings of expectation and promise.


Bailey was the greatest person in my world. And the fact that he was my brother, my only brother, and I had no sisters to share him with, was such good fortune that it made me want to live a Christian life just to show God that I was grateful.

Maya, Chapter 4

Maya expresses how much her relationship with her brother Bailey means to her.


People were those who lived on my side of town. I didn't like them all, or, in fact, any of them very much, but they were people. These others, the strange pale creatures that lived in their alien unlife, weren't considered folks.

Maya, Chapter 4

Maya's childish explanation of how she feels about white people unwittingly expresses the unreasoning nature of racism. She reveals that she considers African Americans, even those she doesn't like, as "people," but she considers white folks as alien, or other, not as "folks" or people.


I wanted to throw a handful of black pepper in their faces, to throw lye on them, to scream that they were dirty, scummy peckerwoods, but I knew I was as clearly imprisoned behind the scene as the actors outside were confined to their roles.

Maya, Chapter 5

Maya's instinct is to use violence to defend Momma against the "powhitetrash" girls who are insulting her, but Momma has told Maya to stay inside, so she's "imprisoned behind the scene." Maya shows remarkable insight for her age in recognizing that what the girls are doing shouldn't be taken personally because they, too, are imprisoned in roles that have been imposed on them—by their culture and by society.


Momma intended to teach Bailey and me to use the paths of life that she and her generation and all the Negroes gone before had found, and found to be safe ones.

Maya, Chapter 7

Momma knows that violating the social codes of segregation can be dangerous and even life-threatening, even for African American children. She wants the children to learn and follow these codes to keep them safe, but Maya and Bailey don't understand the danger and want to assert their equality.


Of course, I knew God was white too, but no one could have made me believe he was prejudiced.

Maya, Chapter 8

Maya is trying to understand why whites have more money and easier lives than African Americans.


We, or at any rate I, had built such elaborate fantasies about him and the illusory mother that seeing him in the flesh shredded my inventions like a hard yank on a paper chain.

Maya, Chapter 9

Angelou describes how she feels about her father when he visits Stamps after being absent from her life for several years.


Her world was bordered on all sides with work, duty, religion and 'her place.' I don't think she ever knew that a deep-brooding love hung over everything she touched.

Maya, Chapter 9

Angelou describes Momma, who never expresses her love in words, and would have been embarrassed to do so, yet her love was evident in everything she does.


Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning.

Mrs. Flowers, Chapter 15

Mrs. Flowers introduces Maya to the power of the spoken word to persuade her to break the long silence she fell into after her rape.


The Black woman in the South who raises sons, grandsons and nephews had her heartstrings tied to a hanging noose.

Maya, Chapter 17

Angelou explains why Momma is so worried about Bailey when he's late coming home from the movies. Momma knows he'd be an easy target for a hate group such as the Klan.


People whose history and future were threatened each day by extinction considered that it was only by divine intervention that they were able to live at all.

Maya, Chapter 18

Angelou comments on why the field workers who come to the General Store, whose lives are filled with pain and hardship, are constantly thanking God for even the smallest positive things in their lives.


If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.

Vivian, Chapter 36

After the birth of Maya's son, her mother reassures her that she's going to be a good mother.

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