What did Marguerite hope the made-over lavender dress would do for her in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marguerite hoped that the made-over lavender dress would make her white.

Momma had put "ruffles on the hem and cute little tucks around the waist" of a "white woman's once-was-purple throw-away." The material of the dress was silk, and Marguerite fanticized that

"once I put it on I'd look like a movie star...I was going to look like one of the sweet little white girls who were everybody's dream of what was right with the world."

With a sense of exquisite delight, Marguerite imagined how surprised everyone would be

"when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn't let me straighten...my light-blue eyes were going to hypnotize them..."

The tragedy Marguerite expresses is the self-hatred felt by Southern black girls growing up in a society where to be white was the ultimate good, and to be anything else was to be something less, worthless, of no account. In the Jim Crow South, the black population lived in constant fear of white society, and every interaction between the two races reinforced that they were inferior, and to be kept in their place. As a child, Marguerite dreamed of being white, only to be reminded at every turn of the reality of her black skin, and the societal position in which it entrapped her. She concludes

"If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat...it is an unnecessary insult" (Prologue).

Read the study guide:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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