I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 24: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 24: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
The nurse of Dentist Lincoln: described by Mrs. Henderson as “snippity”

Dr. Lincoln: a dentist in Stamps

Dr. Baker: a dentist in Texarkana, Arkansas

Chapter 24 describes in detail the pain that Marguerite experiences with her tooth and the prejudice she experiences at the office of Dr. Lincoln. After Marguerite and Mrs. Henderson wait over an hour in the sun, Dr. Lincoln refuses to see Marguerite. He says, “I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s.” After Mrs. Henderson “backed up inside herself for a few minutes,” Mrs. Henderson walks inside the office without knocking. Later Marguerite and her grandmother make a trip all the way to Texarkana, Arkansas, to get help for the tooth.

Mrs. Henderson later tells Uncle Willie what happened when she went inside the office again. She asked Dr. Lincoln for the money he owed her. Dr. Lincoln explained that he had repaid the money some time ago, but Mrs. Henderson insisted that there was now interest; she took ten dollars for the trip to Texarkana as full payment. “Even though by rights he was paid up before, I figger, he gonna be that kind of nasty, he gonna have to pay for it.”

Marguerite, however, prefers her fanciful version of what happened inside the office when Mrs. Henderson returned. Marguerite’s version includes her grandmother’s growing to a height of 10 feet, turning the nurse into a “crocus sack of chickenfeed,” and evicting the dentist from the town.

Marguerite states that the pain was so bad that she prayed “to have the building collapse on her left jaw.” Unfortunately, Dr. Lincoln, the white dentist in Stamps, states that he will not “treat nigra.”

Angelou helps the reader visualize the aching teeth: “two cavities that were rotten to the gums.” “Her eyes were blazing like live coals” for the pain. She makes use of personification when she calls the cavity the “Angel of the candy counter” and in the clause “pieces of sanity pushed themselves forward.”

The theme of maturation takes a back seat in Chapter 24; it is the theme of social realism that is prominent. The reader sees firsthand the racism and segregation in Stamps as the white dentist refuses to “treat nigra, colored people.” His unkind words cut Marguerite to the quick, but her grandmother finds retribution in her own way.