I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 15: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Mrs. Bertha Flowers: “the aristocrat of Black Stamps” and “the lady who threw me my first life line”

Summary
Marguerite sops around the house “like an old biscuit” until she is thrown a life line by Mrs. Flowers. Mrs. Flowers asks Marguerite to carry her groceries home. Margaret is thrilled that she has been asked to go and changes her clothes before they leave. When Mrs. Flowers comments on how professionally sewn the dress is, Mrs. Henderson makes Marguerite remove it so that Mrs. Flowers can see the seams. Marguerite is humiliated. Mrs. Flowers seems to understand Marguerite’s feelings. She compliments Mrs. Henderson’s sewing and tells Marguerite to dress again.

When Marguerite reaches Mrs. Flowers’ home with the parcels, Mrs. Flowers invites her inside. She gives Marguerite cookies and challenges Marguerite with her “lessons for living.” Before Marguerite returns to the Store, Mrs. Flowers lends her a book of poetry and asks her to recite at their next session.

When Marguerite arrives home, Mrs. Henderson hears her take the Lord’s name in vain by saying, “By the way.” Mrs. Henderson explains that “Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Light,’ and anyone who says ‘by the way’ is really saying ‘by Jesus’ or ‘by God.” Marguerite is whipped and reminded that whitefolks use “by the way” often. Mrs. Henderson explains the mouths of white people “were most in general loose and their words were an abomination before Christ.”

Analysis
The reader senses that Mrs. Flowers’ invitation to come inside may have been planned by Mrs. Henderson and Mrs. Flowers during one of their conversations. Maya Angelou makes use of several stylistic devices in describing Mrs. Flowers and Marguerite’s visit to her home. “The sweet scent of vanilla had met us as she opened the door” is an example of personification. The reader hears and sees Mrs. Flowers through the metaphor “her reading was a wonder in my ears” and through the simile “like a plum if snagged.” Angelou uses dialect when she quotes Mrs. Henderson as...

(The entire section is 508 words.)