I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 23: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 23: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
The principal of Lafayette County Training School

Mr. Edward Donleavy: a man running for election and the white speaker at the graduation ceremonies for Marguerite’s class

Henry Reed: the valedictorian

Chapter 23 describes the excitement of the community members who have friends and family in graduation ceremonies at Lafayette County Training School. Marguerite is particularly excited because this is her eighth-grade graduation.

During the ceremony Mr. Edward Donleavy, a white man who is running for election, comes on the stage. The white man who accompanies Mr. Donleavy to the stage actually takes the seat of the principal. Mr. Donleavy promises a paved playing field in exchange for their vote. He tells of the accomplishments of white schools in the area. After his speech Mr. Donleavy leaves the ceremony.

Sadness and shame fill the room. The participants feel that they have lost control of their ceremony and their lives. Henry Reed, the valedictorian, at last rallies the group; he leads them in “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” As a result, “We were on top again.”

Mr. Donleavy seems to have certain preconceived notions about the group he is addressing. He sees them as sports figures and not scholars. The reward he offers in exchange for their vote—a paved playing field—is something the white schools already have. The festive mood of the crowd is taken away by the bricks of the graduation speaker.

The reader sees firsthand racial discrimination as the unknown white man goes to the stage and takes the seat of the principal. As the graduating class sings, Marguerite becomes “a proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race.”

Imagery helps the reader visualize the graduating class with their butter-yellow pique dresses. Foreshadowing, however, gives the reader an indication that all will not go well at the graduation; Marguerite says, “I was overcome with a presentiment of worse things to come.”

Marguerite continues to mature in Chapter 23. She realizes that the boys have also “become more friendly, more outgoing.” The fact of her graduation is an indication that Marguerite is no longer the child who arrives by train in Stamps after her parents’ divorce.