Chapter 28: Summary and Analysis
Miss Kirwin: Marguerite’s teacher in San Francisco
Chapter 28 describes the education of Marguerite in the public schools and at the California Labor School. She describes the public schools as often violent; fights were commonplace.
Marguerite receives a scholarship to the California Labor School. Marguerite has one good experience there; she develops a new allegiance in her life: Miss Kirwin and her information. This teacher brings her knowledge to Marguerite and makes an impression on Marguerite for the rest of her life. Years later Marguerite finds the school is on the “House Un-American Activities list of subversive organizations.”
The setting and characters in California are important parts of Chapter 28. The reader experiences firsthand the social groups in the high school near Marguerite’s home and at George Washington High School and the teachers at the California Labor School.
Marguerite attends the high school near her home and is thrown into a group of “young ladies . . . faster, brasher, meaner and more prejudiced than any I had met at Lafayette County Training School.” Negro and Mexican students carry knives to the public school to use on the white girls with “no shield of fearlessness.” The conflict for Marguerite is somewhat resolved when she goes to the California Labor School.
Angelou helps the reader visualize Miss Kirwin, “who was a tall, florid, buxom lady with battleship-gray hair.” She also uses dialect to tell how the “Negro girls . . . claimed to have known the bright lights of Big D (Dallas) or T Town (Tulsa, Oklahoma),” and how Miss Kirwin always responded with “Correct” to any right answer.
Marguerite is now 14. She is given a scholarship to the California Labor School, where she learns to move like her teacher and “occupy space.” The reader finds Marguerite trying to assess herself realistically. She describes the dance lessons she takes to change her body and her feelings about herself. She hopes the lessons will “make my legs big and widen my hips.”