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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou
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Why would Marguerite's Easter dress have to be a white woman's throwaway?  

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Marguerite's dress is a white woman's throwaway because it is the only clothing available to her grandmother to make Marguerite's Easter dress. Marguerite's family is poor, and they are subjected to racism in Stamps, Arkansas, which prevents them from earning more money. Marguerite's grandmother does the best she can, fashioning the dress out of lavender taffeta, but the dress was cut down from an older white woman's dress that had thrown away. Marguerite had imagined herself appearing like a movie star, but in the harsh light of Easter morning, she realizes that she is wearing an ugly, ill-fitting, castaway dress that doesn't suit her. She also realizes that her skinny legs, covered with the red of Arkansas clay, are showing. Marguerite's visions of being as glamorous as a movie star are dashed when she appears in the throwaway dress at her church's Easter service.

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In the book, Marguerite's Easter dress was made from a white woman's "faded purple throwaway." Initially, Marguerite remembers being excited about the dress as she watched her mother put careful stitches on it. However, in the light of the sun, Marguerite found herself greatly disappointed in the dress, as it presented her in an unattractive light.

Because of her family's poverty, however, this was the only way Marguerite could have something semi-decent to wear to the Easter celebration in church. Although she was resigned to her fate on that particular Easter morning, Marguerite remembers feeling greatly ashamed that the faded color of the dress shouted out her poverty for all to see.

To comfort herself, Marguerite remembers fantasizing that her hair was really long and blond, her eyes blue, and her skin white. She imagines that it was a "cruel magician" who turned her into a "too big...girl, with kinky black hair, broad feet, and a space between her teeth that would hold a pencil."

 

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