I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Chapter 8: Summary and Analysis
by Maya Angelou

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Chapter 8: Summary and Analysis

Chapter 8 is a description of the caste system in Stamps, Arkansas, in the 1930s. Marguerite gives her views of the Depression, the actions of the people of Stamps, Mrs. Henderson, and the welfare agencies. She describes in detail how her grandmother works out a system of trade at the Store for the free commodities secured by area residents. Marguerite also tells about the Christmas gifts that arrive from their parents and the heartbreak that comes after they open them; until this time the children had not allowed themselves to think about why their parents had sent them away. The children tear the stuffing out of the doll, but they save the tea set in case their parents return.

Marguerite and Bailey have matured to the point that they are beginning to question—but not understand—why their parents sent them to Stamps. When the Christmas gifts arrive, they do not express the happiness that often accompanies gifts and presents. Mrs. Henderson threatens to send the gifts back to their parents. “A wretched feeling of being torn engulfed me. I wanted to scream, ‘Yes. Tell him to take them back.’ But I didn’t move.”

Marguerite is better able to express her feelings about the caste system in Stamps: “A light shade had been pulled down between the Black community and all things white.” Maya Angelou helps the reader to realize just how prejudiced Stamps was when she says that “the whites in our town were so prejudiced that a Negro couldn’t buy vanilla ice cream.” Then—to add humor—she adds “Except on July Fourth.”

The metaphors used in Chapter 8 also illustrate the character-against-society conflict in Stamps. She tells the reader that “Stamps, Arkansas, was Chitlin’ Switch, Georgia; Hang ‘Em High, Alabama; Don’t Let the Sun Set on You Here, Nigger, Mississippi.” Marguerite realizes that Stamps is like many other racially segregated towns in the South of the 1930s.