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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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Chapters 13–16 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1124

Chapter 13

Marguerite’s brother, Bailey, told her that she had to give him the name of her rapist or the man would go on to harm others. When she told him that she was afraid the man would kill him, Bailey confidently pronounced this impossible, and because she trusted Bailey, she gave him Mr. Freeman’s name. Bailey told Grandmother Baxter, and Mr. Freeman was arrested.

Marguerite describes Mr. Freeman’s trial, at which she gave evidence. Mr. Freeman’s lawyer asked whether she knew if she had been raped. He then asked if Mr. Freeman had ever touched her before the rape. Having kept the secret from her family, Marguerite lied and said he had not. Mr. Freeman was sentenced to a year and a day in prison but somehow managed to be released immediately. Later, a white police officer came to Grandmother Baxter’s house. Marguerite thought that her lie had been discovered, but in fact he had come to tell them that Mr. Freeman was dead. His body had been found behind the slaughterhouse, apparently kicked to death.

For a short time after her rape and Mr. Freeman’s death, Marguerite’s family were understanding in their attitude to her trauma. However, they soon grew tired of her moroseness and punished her for being “uppity.” Eventually, she and Bailey were sent back to Momma in Stamps, Arkansas.

Chapter 14

The calm inactivity of Stamps soothed Marguerite after her trauma. She and Bailey were local celebrities by virtue of their trip to Saint Louis, and people would come to the store to see them. Bailey answered all the questions they asked, inventing a great many eloquent lies. Momma and Uncle Willie were proud of the children’s new status, which provided diversion and color in the drab landscape of Stamps.

Marguerite remained silent and morose. The people of Stamps generally thought she was pining for the big city and left her alone. She was already known for being “tender-hearted,” an expression used by Black people in the South to indicate sensitivity and delicate health.

Chapter 15

Almost a year after her return, Marguerite was introduced to Mrs. Bertha Flowers, “the aristocrat of Black Stamps,” a woman who wore printed voile dresses, flowered hats, and gloves, and carried with her an air of self-possession that made her seem never to be too hot or too cold. Marguerite felt great respect for Mrs. Flowers, who has remained in her mind “the measure of what a human being can be.” She would wince when she heard Momma addressing Mrs. Flowers in a familiar manner, calling her “Sister” and speaking ungrammatically.

One day when Mrs. Flowers made some purchases at the store, she specifically asked for Marguerite to carry them back to her house, even though Momma had offered to tell Bailey to help her. Mrs. Flowers told Marguerite that she had heard her schoolwork was very good but that it was all written, as she was too reticent to talk in class. Mrs. Flowers said that, while no one could force her to talk, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper shades of meaning.” Marguerite memorized this phrase. Mrs. Flowers gave her lemonade and cookies and read to her from Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities . Though Marguerite had read the book already, it seemed vastly more poetic and beautiful when Mrs. Flowers read it aloud. Mrs. Flowers then gave her a book of poems, asking her to learn one by heart so that she could recite it the next time they...

(This entire section contains 1124 words.)

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Chapter 16

In her tenth year, Marguerite began to work in the kitchen of a wealthy white woman called Mrs. Viola Cullinan, who came from an upper-class family in Virginia and whose house was run with an almost inhuman precision. With Mrs. Cullinan’s cook, Miss Glory, Marguerite learned the difference between a salad plate, a bread plate, and a dessert plate, as well as numerous types of cutlery, bowls, cups, and glasses. She felt sorry for Mrs. Cullinan, who was fat and unattractive and who could not have children, though her husband had two beautiful daughters with his Black mistress. However, her pity swiftly evaporated when Mrs. Cullinan treated her rudely, suggesting Miss Glory call her “Mary,” as “Marguerite” was too long and troublesome to pronounce.

Marguerite explains that everyone she knew had a horror of being “called out of his name” after centuries in which Black people were commonly addressed using insulting racial slurs. Miss Glory reminded Mrs. Cullinan of Marguerite’s proper name but counseled Marguerite not to mind too much, saying that her own proper name was “Hallelujah,” but Mrs. Cullinan had always called her “Glory” instead. Marguerite wanted to stop working for Mrs. Cullinan and performed her duties as poorly as possible, but it was her brother, Bailey, who finally came up with the idea that led to her dismissal. He asked her what Mrs. Cullinan’s favorite piece of crockery was and, when his sister told him it was a casserole dish in the shape of a fish, advised her to break it. Marguerite did so and was duly fired.


The violence and corruption of St. Louis are further emphasized in chapter 13 by the unfair trial of Mr. Freeman, followed by his violent death. The legal system fails to deliver justice, and Mr. Freeman walks away from court a free man, despite being sentenced to a brief term of imprisonment. However, a rough and ready justice awaits him on the street.

After St. Louis, the tranquility of Stamps is a welcome respite. The tone of Angelou’s writing becomes lighter and more humorous, despite the lingering trauma that makes Marguerite unwilling to speak. This section of the book concludes with two contrasting vignettes of middle-aged ladies. Mrs. Flowers belongs to the Black aristocracy of Stamps, and Mrs. Cullinan to its white upper class. Marguerite adores Mrs. Flowers and regards her as a role model. Although Mrs. Cullinan is even more materially privileged than Mrs. Flowers, and is Marguerite’s employer, she regards the white woman first with pity, then dislike. Her social status cannot atone for her lack of dignity and thoughtfulness.

Marguerite perceptively notes that she is grateful never to have seen Mrs. Flowers in the company of white people, particularly the “powhitetrash,” as she knows they would have treated her disrespectfully, and this would have been painful to witness, shattering Marguerite’s illusions of Mrs. Flowers’s effortless superiority. It is also significant that, while Mrs. Cullinan complains querulously of Marguerite’s silence, it is Mrs. Flowers who encourages her to use her voice as an instrument by reading aloud.


Chapters 9–12 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 17–20 Summary and Analysis