I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 34: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 34: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
A receptionist: works at the employment office of the Market Street Railway Company in San Francisco

A street car conductorette: treats Marguerite with less than courtesy

This chapter describes in detail 15-year-old Marguerite’s search for a job when her room begins to be as cheerful as a dungeon. She rules out many jobs and finally settles on streetcar conductorette. Vivian tells her that “They don’t accept colored people on streetcars,” but she encourages Marguerite to try for the job if she wants it. Even after a rebuke from the receptionist, Marguerite does not give up; she continues to apply and calls on Negro organizations to help. Marguerite at last is hired—just why she never knows. Marguerite becomes the first Negro conductorette on the San Francisco streetcars.

Marguerite returns to school after one semester and begins to cut classes. She and her mother agree to be honest with each other: Marguerite will tell her mother when she plans to cut classes. Marguerite may cut classes if her school work is up to standard and if she has no tests scheduled. Vivian explains that she does not want a white woman to tell her about her own daughter nor does she want to be placed in the position of lying to a white woman because Marguerite was not “woman enough to speak up.”

Angelou states that the American Negro female adult is usually a formidable character; Angelou says this “is the inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”

Marguerite pits herself against the social system when she goes after the job of streetcar conductorette—a job reserved for whites. She confronts the receptionist, uses every resource she knows, and is eventually given forms to complete—and a job. Marguerite struggles to forgive the clerk and comes to accept her as a fellow victim. Marguerite herself recognizes that in her short life she has experienced “masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.”

Marguerite states that she

. . . as so much wiser and older, so much more independent, with a bank account and clothes that I had bought for myself, that I was sure that I had learned and earned the magic formula which would make me a part of the gay life my contemporaries led.”

Later Marguerite says that “Without willing it, I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware.”