I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 5: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Powhitetrash: poor, dirty, ill-mannered white children who live on Mrs. Henderson’s land and antagonize her

Mrs. Henderson demands cleanliness and manners from her grandchildren. These habits are foreign to the powhitetrash who live on Mrs. Henderson’s land. On the afternoon in question, Marguerite has just completed sweeping the yard and has made a design in the dirt. Mrs. Henderson looks admiringly at the design and sees the powhitetrash approaching. Mrs. Henderson sends Marguerite inside and faces the children alone. They laugh at her and imitate her, and then one of the girls stands on her head and reveals that she has no underpants. Through it all Mrs. Henderson sings hymns. As they leave, she says goodbye to each girl by name; Marguerite describes her grandmother’s face as shining as she looks at her. Marguerite sweeps the yard again and this time makes designs of concentric hearts with a piercing arrow.

Chapter 5 is fraught with conflict as the powhitetrash children directly confront Mrs. Henderson. The children mock her and taunt her. For instance, when one tries to imitate her, another says, “Naw, you can’t do it. Your mouth ain’t pooched out enough.” The children do not recognize Mrs. Henderson as a human being because of her color, an expression of the caste system in rural Stamps.

Mrs. Henderson refuses to become agitated when the powhitetrash, one segment of Stamps society, mock her personally. She faces the white society by singing and never losing her composure. Marguerite sees the strength in her grandmother who faces the system but does not bend or break.

Angelou uses many stylistic devices in this chapter to help the reader visualize the confrontation between Mrs. Henderson and the powhitetrash. Imagery helps the reader see the children clearly:...

(The entire section is 460 words.)