I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 4: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 4: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Mr. McElroy: lives in the big rambling house next to the Store

Marguerite presents a portrait of Mr. McElroy, who lives next to the Store and sells patent medicines. She also discusses her relationship with Bailey, who was the greatest person in the world and her protector when adults said unkind things to her. Marguerite depicts two customs of Stamps: canning and curing, and the delicious meals from the smokehouse, the shelves, and the garden. An important part of the chapter is the description of segregation in Stamps; in fact, the segregation is so complete that in the 1930s “most Black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like.” Marguerite recalls that she “couldn’t force myself to think of them [whites] as people . . . People were those who lived on my side of town.”

In Chapter 4, Bailey pits himself against those who speak unkindly to Marguerite. For example, when Mrs. Coleman, or anyone, comments upon the features of Marguerite, Bailey immediately comes to her defense. Bailey, in an oily voice, insults Mrs. Coleman—or whoever heaps impolite comments upon Marguerite—by asking if her son is better; when Mrs. Coleman asks what he is sick from, Bailey would answer with a straight face, “From the Uglies.”

Marguerite must control her laughter at Bailey’s antics. She finds it necessary to “hold my laugh, bite my tongue, grit my teeth and very seriously erase even the touch of a smile from my face.” Marguerite often has a difficult time controlling herself, an indication that she is still a child at this point in the novel.

Marguerite cannot force herself to think of whitefolks as people. She explains that “People were those who lived on my side of town. I didn’t like them all, or, in fact, any of them very much, but they were people. These others . . . weren’t considered folks. They were whitefolks.” She discusses the “hostility of the powerless against the powerful, the poor against the rich, the worker against the worked for, and the ragged against the well dressed.” In Stamps the segregation is complete and the feelings the separation produces are depicted carefully by Angelou.

The autobiographical I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a maturational novel. One can sense the change in size and maturity of Marguerite since Chapter 2. In fact she tells us that much of this story is told “from the perch of age.”