I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Preface: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Preface: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Marguerite: the narrator, a “Southern Black girl”

Marguerite remembers an Easter service which is painful for her to recall. Her day is a terrible one from the time she puts on her “cut-down” Easter dress. During the Easter program Marguerite forgets her lines, trips on her way out of the church, and wets her pants. Marguerite escapes to her home with her wet clothes even though she knows she will be spanked for leaving the service. Still, she manages to feel joy because she is liberated from the service and because she feels a physical release from the pressure on her bladder.

Readers encounter many conflicts in the Preface which captivate their interest. A first conflict is character-against-society when Marguerite explains her dissatisfaction with her life. She dreams of wearing a beautiful dress and looking “like one of the sweet little white girls.” She longs to hear people saying, “‘forgive us, please, we didn’t know who you were.”’ She imagines waking one day and finding her hair is long and blond. She decides that a wicked fairy has turned her into a “too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.”

A character-against-nature conflict occurs when Marguerite attempts to control her bladder during the service. She says, however, that “a green persimmon, or it could have been a lemon, caught me between the legs and squeezed . . . Then before I reached the door, the sting was burning down my legs and into my Sunday socks.”

The reader is also aware of a third conflict: character-against-character. Marguerite says she is going to get a whipping for running home—but she laughs anyway. One’s interest is captured and we are eager to find out more about the home life of this unhappy child.

Stylistic devices abound in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. For instance, Angelou uses hyperbole when Marguerite describes her urge to urinate; Marguerite says that it felt as if “my poor head would burst...

(The entire section is 538 words.)