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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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What happened to Marguerite as a result of her experiences?

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Marguerite's experience with racism results in guilty feelings about loving white authors, including white authors who’ve been dead for centuries. Additionally, Marguerite’s horrible experience with sexual abuse causes her to stop talking for a bit. Lastly, the feelings that Marguerite experiences for other girls prompts her to have sex with a boy. That sexual experience makes Marguerite pregnant.

Expert Answers

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As Marguerite has many experiences, there are several ways to answer this question. Readers could choose one or two of the experiences that most interest them and trace the impact or “the result” of that experience on Marguerite.

One experience that impacts Marguerite is her upbringing. Growing up in the racist South connects to her love of literature. As Marguerite herself says, “During these years in Stamps, I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare.”

Racism leads Marguerite to think of white authors differently. She and her brother commit a scene from Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice to memory. However, they realize her grandma might not like them reciting a scene from a white author, so they move on to James Weldon Johnson instead.

This occurred as a result of Marguerite's experiences with white people. It doesn’t matter that Shakespeare has been dead for centuries—he’s still white.

Another experience that changes Marguerite is the sexual abuse that she endures. Her mother's boyfriend does terrible things to her. As a result, Marguerite seems to take a vow of silence. After her experience with sexual abuse, Marguerite stops talking.

Additionally, Marguerite's experiences in the last chapters of the book impact her life. For example, her possible attraction to other girls leads her to have sex with a boy. That experience results in Marguerite becoming pregnant.

Finally, the profession of Bailey’s girlfriend—a sex worker—leads to his expulsion from their home. With Bailey gone, Marguerite becomes determined to find a job. Thus, the experience of having her brother banished results in Marguerite becoming San Francisco’s first Black streetcar conductor.

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