I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 21: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter 21: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Joyce: Bailey’s first love outside the family

Mrs. Goodman: a customer in the Store who gives the reader information about the whereabouts of Joyce

Chapter 21 describes the sexual experiments of Bailey. While Marguerite serves as the lookout, Bailey takes girls into a tent he constructed in the back yard. Bailey finally has sexual relations with Joyce, a new girl in the community. Marguerite explains that Joyce was Bailey’s first love outside the family.

Mrs. Goodman, at the end of the chapter, tells Momma that Joyce has left Stamps with one of those railroad porters. Bailey is at first despondent, but he is finally able to summarize the situation by saying, “She’s got someone to do it to her all the time now.”

The theme of maturation is again very evident in Chapter 21; it seems, however, that it is more Bailey than Marguerite who is physically maturing. Bailey is struggling to gain sexual knowledge from the local girls. He finally develops a sexual relationship with Joyce, the newcomer to Stamps.

Imagery helps the reader visualize the new character Joyce. For example, Marguerite says that Joyce walked “as if she were carrying a load of wood.” Dialect is evident; for example, when Mrs. Goodman tells what has happened to Joyce, Momma says, “Do, Lord.” The simile is used to describe Bailey’s initial reaction to Joyce’s leaving; Marguerite says, “He closed in upon himself like a pond swallowing a stone.” Mrs. Henderson uses a metaphor to describe Marguerite as Marguerite eavesdrops; Mrs. Henderson says, “the Lord don’t like little jugs with big ears.”

Marguerite is the innocent in this chapter; she says, “I thought he would go to the hospital if he let her do that to him, so I warned him, ‘Bailey, if you let her do that to you, you’ll be sorry.’”

Marguerite is resentful of Joyce—at first because of her relationship with Bailey and later because of her leaving him. “If I had disliked Joyce while she had Bailey in her grasp, I hated her for leaving.” Bailey himself struggles to accept the fact. Marguerite describes how Bailey “lost interest in everything. He mulled around and it would be safe to say ‘he paled.’”

Resolution comes at the end of the chapter when Bailey accepts his loss and he and Marguerite go on to other things—a sign of maturity.