I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 11: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 11: Summary and Analysis

Marguerite begins to spend her hours out of school with books and radio programs. She rarely sees her mother; if Mother comes home before the children are in bed, Mother sends them to their rooms so she can spend time with Mr. Freeman. Marguerite says that she feels that she has again arrived in a place where she has not “come to stay.”

Both children begin to have problems: Bailey begins to stutter and Marguerite begins to have bad dreams. Marguerite goes into the bed of her mother (and Mr. Freeman) for comfort when the dreams occur.

On one of the occasions when Marguerite comes to their bed and Vivian goes to work, Mr. Freeman holds Marguerite and masturbates. Mr. Freeman threatens to kill Bailey if Marguerite ever tells what happened. Marguerite does not understand what has transpired. She only knows that it was good to be held.

Marguerite withdraws even more. She takes out a library card and begins to spend more time reading and less time with Bailey.

Marguerite becomes very unsure of herself. She fears that Mr. Freeman will kill Bailey. She wants to ask what has happened but does not because she “knew when to keep quiet around adults.” Even more conflict is apparent as Mr. Freeman tries to hide his actions from others and tells Marguerite never to tell “what they did.”

Angelou helps the reader experience what Marguerite saw and felt: “He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go.” The reader realizes the childishness and innocence of young Marguerite through the following simile: “I felt as sorry for him as I had felt for a litter of helpless pigs . . . ” Connotation is used when the reader is told that Mr. Freeman’s organ “stood up like a brown ear of corn” and that it “was mushy and squirmy like the inside of a freshly killed chicken.” The reader is impressed with the innocence of Marguerite.

Although in the previous chapter it seemed that the children were maturing, in Chapter 11 Marguerite strikes the reader as still being very young, vulnerable, and innocent. Her innocence makes the crime against her even more horrible. Her withdrawal into books to protect herself against her thoughts and to prevent herself from sharing the terrible secret with others is her way of coping.