I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 35: Summary and Analysis

Maya Angelou

Chapter 35: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Young man from down the street: the nameless father of Marguerite’s child

Chapter 35 describes in detail Marguerite’s difficulty in accepting her sexuality. She reads a book on lesbianism and confuses the term lesbianism with hermaphrodite. She looks at her large hands and feet and at her undeveloped breasts and becomes convinced that she is a lesbian. She notes the development of some folds of skin and approaches her mother with her concerns. Her mother reassures her with the help of a dictionary.

When Marguerite sees an acquaintance undressing, she again has doubts about her femininity; she mistakes the “esthetic sense of beauty and the pure emotion of envy” for homosexuality. She wants “to be a woman, but that seemed to be a world to which I was to be eternally refused entrance.”

At last to assure herself that she is normal, Marguerite asks a handsome boy up the street if he would like to have “a sexual intercourse” with her. The result of this one-time affair is Marguerite’s pregnancy.

Even surrounding the sex act there is misunderstanding and conflict—not reassurance and understanding. Marguerite’s friend “thought I was giving him something, and the fact of the matter was that it was my intention to take something from him.” After the brief encounter, Marguerite’s main concern is how to get home quickly. “He may have sensed that he had been used.”

Angelou continues to employ many stylistic devices. For example, the simile in “my armpits were as smooth as my face” helps the reader visualize what the author is trying to convey. Marguerite uses the euphemism “pocketbook” for “vagina”; her mother tells her to use the clinical description, not “the Southern term.”

The primary theme in Chapter 35 is maturation; Marguerite is becoming an adult and is facing many doubts and questions. Perhaps the fact that she has no close friend in California makes her plight seem more extraordinary to her. There is no resolution to her questions since at the end of the chapter she finds that she is to become a mother. The reader sees firsthand the problems of adolescence in American society in the 1940s.