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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Angelou's tale is a maturational autobiography. You may have also heard the literary term for this, bildungsroman.

The story begins when Angelou is three years old. Her parents are unable to care for her. She and her four year old brother, Bailey, go to live with Maya's paternal grandmother (whom she called Momma) and uncle in Stamps, Arkansas.

For the next several years, young Maya grows up under her grandmother's loving tutelage. From her, Maya learns tolerance, love, and respect.

But when Maya turns twelve, her birth mother decides she wants the children back. Her father comes to retrieve the children in Stamps, leaving the only home they have ever known.

Life turns sour for Maya. The bustle of Chicago is so different from life in the rural South. She meets her extended, boisterous family. She begins to make adjustments to her new life, but then the most seminal event in her life takes place. Maya is raped.

After the rape, Maya's story focuses on recovery: recovery of body, of spirit, of trust. She goes into the wider world and discovers racism, but also her own remarkable strength.

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

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