I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Trace Maya's relationship with Bailey. Does it change significantly over the course of the book? Why or why not?

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Yes, Maya's relationship with Bailey changes through the course of the book. The easiest reason for this is that they grow up and need one another less. Look at the way they depend on one another intensely early in the book and compare that to the intelligent independence manifest in the final pages and you'll see what I mean.

More specifically, their relationship changes when they encounter outside forces that have different impacts on them. For example, Mr. Freeman's abuse/rape of Maya draws her close to Bailey, but it also changes their relationship. She's fractured and turned inward by the pain, while Bailey is not. The appearance of their parents at various times also tugs them in different directions; the different relationships they have with their parents change their relationships.

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jelevy eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Maya’s relationship with Bailey shows the bond between siblings. The story starts off when they are young and having to endure the hardship of their parents' divorce. The backlash from the divorce is that the two children move from California to Arkansas. This helps to strengthen their bond. They have each other's support in learning how to adjust to their new surroundings and living with their grandmother, Mama.

There is a separation when Maya goes to live with their mother in Saint Louis. The tragedy is that Maya is abused by her mother’s boyfriend. Maya is happy to return to her grandmother. This also makes the bond between Maya and Bailey more precious. The book provides a vivid picture of two children who have different experiences that help to enhance their love for each other.

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sardella | Student

Maya and Bailey's relationship in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is actually one of its most extraordinary. Throughout the novel, Maya struggles with an inability to find an identity. She has been labeled by a racist Southern society. She has been neglected by her parents and sent to live with a variety of relatives across the country. And perhaps most troubling, she has been told by her grandmother that her best option in the face persecution is to remain silent and unnoticed. Thus, her relationship with her brother Bailey becomes a crucial aspect of the foundation of Maya's sense of self.

Early in the novel, Bailey provides Maya with the sort of stability so lacking from her young life. And even though she is far too young to recognize this, her adoration of him is immediately apparent. She says, "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" (Angelou 10). Maya goes on to use Bailey's splendor to define herself. He was "graceful and smooth" where she was "elbowy and rough." He was praised for his quick wit and charming humor, while Maya was often the butt of jokes. But always, Bailey was Maya's champion.

This relationship remains predominantly unchanged until Bailey and Maya return to Stamps from St. Louis, a move which has a tremendously negative impact upon Bailey. His charisma is replaced by a surly reclusiveness heightened by the absence of his mother. Despite this drastic shift in persona, Maya still turns to Bailey for advice and comfort, as she doubtless senses the importance of retaining his presence in her life.

By the close of the novel, Bailey has left for what we believe to be for good. He has asserted his belief that he has gained all of the wisdom he will need to survive in the world, leaving Maya without the familiar presence of her brother. This distance most certainly puts a particular strain on their once easy camaraderie; however, in her most desperate moments, Maya still writes to her brother seeking comfort and advice. Most telling is the letter she sends following her pregnancy wherein Bailey advises her to stay in school.

We learn here, that in her darkest moments, Bailey is still the voice that Maya searches for. And even as their relationship changed when impacted by a number of external forces, its foundations remained intact throughout the course of the novel.

rickamburgey | Student

The love of family is a strong theme in I Know How Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Angelou wrote in great detail about her brother Bailey in her 1969 autobiography.

In the book, Maya love for her brother was clear.

“Bailey was the greatest person in my world. And the fact that he was my brother, my only brother...was such a good fortune.”

Maya’s unconditional love for Bailey is further shown by her refusal to initially tell Bailey that Mr. Freeman has raped her because she feared that Mr. Freeman would kill Bailey.

Maya was extremely reliant on Bailey. There was only one year between them in age and Maya trusted Bailey immensely.

“I would be the major loser if Bailey turned up dead. For he was all I claimed, if not all I had.“

Maya and Bailey would always have a strong bond, but they didn’t spend as much time together as they grew up.

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