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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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Marguerite says that Mrs. Flowers' skin looked like it would peel like a plum. What does she mean?

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In Maya Angelou's autobiographical book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mrs. Flowers, a literary African-American woman in Stamps, Arkansas, becomes Maya's mentor and the first person who connects Maya to books.

The description of Mrs. Flowers reads,"Her skin was a rich black that would have peeled like a plum if snagged, but then no one would have thought of getting close enough to Mrs. Flowers to ruffle her dress, let alone snag her skin." Mrs. Flowers's skin is actually thin, meaning that while she seems off-putting or remote, she really isn't. This metaphor, or comparison of Mrs. Flowers's skin to a plum, shows that she is very vulnerable, as her skin can be peeled easily. In other words, she can easily be hurt if anyone approaches her. However, because she has a strong personality, not many people get to know her well.

Mrs. Flowers is able to cure Maya of the selective mutism, or inability to speak, that occurs after Maya is raped. Maya's connection to literature will be the defining quality of her life and what allows her to endure painful episodes, so Mrs. Flowers is a very important teacher and mentor for Maya. 

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When describing Mrs. Flowers, Maya Angelou is using sensory language to have her young narrator describe her older neighbor.  Sensory language is the use of details from the five senses in order to add depth and visualization for the reader. By comparing Mrs. Flowers to a plum, she is saying that Mrs. Flowers has old, delicate skin indicative of many older people.  In addition, no one is willing to get close enough to her to risk messing up her skin or her dress.  This presents the reader with Mrs. Flowers’ air of propriety.  It is this air that intrigues and enamors Maya and makes her want to be like her.


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