I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 32: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 32: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Bootsie: the acknowledged leader of the junkyard gang

Lee Arthur: the only boy who ran with the junkyard gang and lived at home

Juan: the gang member who gives Marguerite a black lace handkerchief

Summary
After she runs away from the neighbor’s home, Marguerite finds an abandoned car in which she sleeps that night. The next morning when she awakes, she sees a group of young faces peering in at her. The faces are those of a gang of young people who live in the junked cars. Marguerite lives with the gang for one month.

The month is not a bad one. Marguerite learns to drive, dance, and curse. In addition, she learns tolerance and develops some security.

At the end of the month she calls her mother and asks for fare home. Before she leaves she receives two gifts: a black lace handkerchief from Juan and a friendship ring from a girl in the gang. After she flies to her mother, Marguerite says, “I was at home, again.”

Analysis
The reader sees a great deal of growth in Marguerite in this chapter: “After a month my thinking processes had so changed that I was hardly recognizable to myself.”; “During the month that I spent in the yard I learned to drive . . . to curse and to dance”; and “The unquestioning acceptance by my peers had dislodged the familiar insecurity.”

Another motif which emerges in this chapter is that of education. The junkyard has become the school facility and the gang members the teachers. Marguerite is the first to acknowledge all the learning she receives from this group:

After a month my thinking processes
had so changed that I was hardly recognizable
to myself. The unquestioning acceptance by
my peers had dislodged the familiar insecurity . . .
I was never again to sense myself so solidly
outside the pale of the human race. The lack of
criticism evidenced by our ad hoc community
influenced me, and set a tone of tolerance
for my life.

Character-against-society conflict is also a theme in Chapter 32. Marguerite joins a group of youth who live in a junkyard. They live in an orderly fashion and set their own rules: no two people of opposite sex can sleep together, no one can steal, everyone must work, and all money is to be used communally. The group separates itself from the society about it. While she is with this group, Marguerite is at last able to let go of the familiar insecurity that she brought with her to the junkyard and emerge as a different, more self-assured person.