I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 17: Summary and Analysis

Maya Angelou

Chapter 17: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Kay Francis: a movie star who reminds Bailey of his mother

Miz Jenkins: a neighbor who speaks to Mrs. Henderson and Marguerite as they walk to meet Bailey

Summary
Chapter 17 describes Saturday nights at Marguerite’s home and particularly the Saturday night when Bailey does not come home on time. The reason for his lateness is that he has sat through a movie again to see more of Kay Francis, a movie star who reminds him of his mother. Uncle Willie whips Bailey with a belt because of his curfew violation. Sometime later Marguerite and Bailey are able to go together to see a film with Kay Francis. On the return, Bailey tears across the tracks just as a train passes. Marguerite is relieved to find him well after the train passes. The chapter ends in humor when Marguerite tells the reader that one year later Bailey does catch a train—and gets stranded in Baton Rouge.

Analysis
Bailey is maturing—and becoming more belligerent—but it is obvious that he misses his mother terribly. Bailey opposes his grandmother and his Uncle Willie by arriving home late and giving no reason for his lateness. His silence is a type of confrontation. Bailey refuses to cry out in pain when Uncle Willie whips his naked skin with a belt.

The two children engage in a conflict when they both attend a movie starring Kay Francis. “I laughed because, except that she was white, the big movie star looked just like my mother . . . And it was funny to think of the whitefolks’ not knowing that the woman they were adoring could be my mother’s twin, except that she was white and my mother was prettier.”

Social realism is evident also in Chapter 17 in the description of the movie theatre with its “whitefolks downstairs” and the “Negroes in the buzzards’ roost.” This segregation and the contrived, stereotypical dialect in the movie give the reader a glimpse of the Southern town of Stamps.