How old is Uncle Willie in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? How long does Momma stay away from Stamps?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that the only time Uncle Willie's age is stated specifically is in Chapter 25. At that time, when Maya and Bailey are sent away from Stamps to live with their mother in California, he is thirty-five. Maya has just graduated from grade school, and is thirteen years old (Chapter 3). That would mean that when the story begins and Maya is three and just arriving in Stamps, Uncle Willie is twenty-five (Chapter 1).

Uncle Willie had been crippled as a child, having "been dropped when he was three years old by a woman who was minding him." He is able to stand upright only with great difficulty, and sits hunched "like a giant black Z." He speaks with a stutter, but is otherwise sound, and makes sure the children learn their school lessons with untempered zeal. Uncle Willie has always lived with Momma, and is often "the butt of jokes" in the community (Chapter 2).

When Momma sends Maya and Bailey away from Stamps for good, she accompanies them on the trip to help them get settled. During this time, she is forced to leave Uncle Williie in Stamps alone; "at thirty-five he'd never been separated from his mother" (Chapter 25). Momma stays with Maya and Bailey in California for "about six months," just long enough to make sure the children have a good start in adjusting to their new environment. After that time, she returns to Stamps, where she is "needed by Uncle Willie" (Chapter 26).

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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