I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Questions and Answers
by Maya Angelou

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What does Marguerite do at the store?

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In Maya Angelou’s autobiography, she relates her youthful experiences—when she was known as Marguerite—working in the Store that her grandmother operated in Stamps, Arkansas. The Wm. Johnson General Merchandising Store is a general store, meaning that it carries a wide variety of items, including food staples such as sugar and flour, in large barrels or bins, thread, animal feed, shoe strings, and balloons. Angelou calls it “a Fun House of Things.” The people who worked picking cotton in the fields would be picked up by trucks at the Store, and often came in before or after work.

During her childhood—as she left Stamps when she was thirteen—she helped her family as a clerk in the Store. Part of her responsibility was weighing and bagging the foodstuffs, such as scooping out a half-pound of flour, which she experienced as “a simple kind of adventure.” She prided herself on learning to judge precisely just how much to add to the scale to reach an exact measure, and her precision was also admired by customers. If the measurement was not exact, the women would admonish her not to try to profit off of them. Sometimes she opened the Store in the morning, and cherished the solitary hours before any customers arrived.

One day she and her brother Bailey had to help their mother hide Uncle Willie. The sheriff had told them that “the boys,” or Klansmen, would be pursuing a rapist, which meant they might take any black man into custody and lynch him. They emptied enough potatoes and onions out of their bins to make space in which their uncle could hide, only hoping that any raiders who came would not find him there. Fortunately the Klansmen did not come.

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