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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, how does Marguerite's relationship with her mother compare to her relationship with "Momma" (her grandmother)?

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Marguerite, or "Maya," has a complicated relationship with her grandmother, who she refers to as "Momma." As a child, she often resents the fact that her grandmother is so strict and religious. It is also this super-strict adherence to religious beliefs, however, that allows Maya to find the dignity to rise above the racism and prejudice that she and her family face from the white folks who also live in their town of Stamps. She respects Momma, because she never sinks to the level of the petty white folks and instead tries to act with maturity and dignity. Because Maya often feels hatred toward herself, she needs someone like Momma to influence her to believe in herself and to see herself in  a positive light. Through her respect for Momma, she finds the strength to overcome that self-hatred, and this is an important life lesson for her.

By the time she moves to St. Louis to live with her mother, she has grown a lot as a person and is a young adolescent girl. Still, she is in need of a self-confidence boost, and that is where her mother comes in. Her mother is fun and adventurous, full of spirit, and very independent. Her kindness and passion for life is what really shapes Maya's transition into a teenager. When she feels lost because black people are not allowed to be train conductors, her mother gives her good advice that only a tough, strong woman would have learned: “Can’t Do is like Don’t Care. Neither of them have a home” (258). This means that nothing is impossible, and these phrases should not be in your vocabulary, if you believe in yourself.

In the beginning, however, her and her brother Bailey do not know if they can depend on their mother. Everything involving her is uncertain. They had been sent to live with her unexpectedly, and just as unexpectedly sent back to Stamps. At first, Maya's relationship with her grandmother proves the more solid and stable one. It is only after living with her mother for a few years that she starts to feel that she can depend on her.

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