Illustration of the silhouetted profile of a person's face and three birds next to an orange sun

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Start Free Trial

How does Maya's relationship with Bailey change over the course of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

The relationship between Maya and her brother, Bailey, is incredibly complex from its beginnings. The two of them are sent to live with their paternal grandmother, nicknamed Momma, in a southern town brimming with racism. It is this complicated environment as well as the aftermath of their parents' divorce that initially causes the pair of siblings to become so closely bonded, which is evident in the way that Maya speaks about her brother. Though Maya feels that she is ungainly and unattractive, she feels that it is a blessing to have a brother who, in her words, is "small, graceful, and smooth." It is also important to note that Maya'

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The relationship between Maya and her brother, Bailey, is incredibly complex from its beginnings. The two of them are sent to live with their paternal grandmother, nicknamed Momma, in a southern town brimming with racism. It is this complicated environment as well as the aftermath of their parents' divorce that initially causes the pair of siblings to become so closely bonded, which is evident in the way that Maya speaks about her brother.

Though Maya feels that she is ungainly and unattractive, she feels that it is a blessing to have a brother who, in her words, is "small, graceful, and smooth." It is also important to note that Maya's birth name is in fact Marguerite, and it is her brother who gave her the nickname Maya—the result of him calling her "Mya Sister."

Later in the novel, Maya is raped, and in the time following this assault she withdraws from everybody but her brother. This is yet another example of the siblings' closeness, and it could even be said that the two grow even closer because of Maya's need for support during this time.

However, things do change for this pair, especially after Maya moves on to other pursuits, such as attending school, and her brother begins to spend time with individuals that, in her belief, seem to hold him back.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is clear that for most of the novel, the relationship that Maya and Bailey have as brother and sister is a very close one that is very important to Maya. This is particularly evident in their childhood relationship, as they would often conspire together to do things they knew they shouldn't. For example, their closeness is seen in the way that they worked together to trick Momma so that one of them could hear the gossip when the Reverend Thomas came to call:

We had a system that never failed. I would sit in the big rocking chair by the stove and rock occasionally and stamp my feet. I changed voices, now soft and girlish, then a little deeper like Baily's. Meanwhile, he would creep back into the Store. Many times he came flying back to sit on the bed and to hold the open lesson book just before Mommma suddenly filled the doorway.

Their closeness is shown in the way that they conspire together and have fun together, and by the amount of time that they spend playing together.

However, as they both grow up, Maya is forced to concede that things change and people develop. Although Bailey remains incredibly important to her, the beginning of Chapter 33 makes it clear that during her absence when she went to spend some time with their father, Bailey has changed:

Bailey was much older too. Even years older than I had become. He had made friends during that youth-shattering summer with a group of slick street boys... Although I had no regrets, I told myself sadly that growing up was not the painless process one would have thought it to be.

This sense of division only widens as Bailey struggles with his feelings of love and attraction for their mother, which finally ends in his leaving both Maya and his mother. Thus, although Maya and Bailey are incredibly close throughout the novel, as they grow up and age, they are shown to grow apart, slowly but surely.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team