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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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Key figures in Maya Angelou's life in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Summary:

Key figures in Maya Angelou's life in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings include her grandmother, Momma, who provides stability and discipline; her brother, Bailey, a close confidant; and her mother, Vivian, who represents strength and independence. These figures significantly influence Angelou's development and resilience throughout her early years.

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Who was Maya Angelou's mother in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

Maya Angelou's mother was called Vivian Baxter. At the beginning of I Know Where the Caged Bird Sings, she is absent and separated from the author's father. She only enters the narrative when Maya and her brother Bailey go to live with her in St. Louis. Angelou describes her as being very beautiful, too beautiful to be a mother, and having a magnetic personality. Physically, she resembles the film star, Kay Francis, to the extent that when they were separated, Bailey would go and watch Kay Francis films at the picture house to remind him of her.

Initially, Vivian is a cold and distant mother who seems unsuited to motherhood. She fails to notice that her partner, Mr. Freeman, is abusing her daughter, and the author does not consider confiding in her. She is the type of parent who spoils her children on occasion but is unreliable. However, at the end of the book, when the author goes to live with her mother again, this time in California, Vivian seems to have changed to some extent. She is still not a typically maternal figure, but she is more supportive of Maya, helping her to get her first job and guiding her when she becomes a mother herself.

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Who is the father of Maya Angelou's son in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

In chapter 35 of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes the father of her son very briefly and does not even give his name. He was one of "two handsome brothers...easily the most eligible young men in the neighborhood" who lived up the hill from her mother's house. Angelou had been concerned that she might be a lesbian and wanted to have a sexual encounter with a man to determine whether this was actually the case. She therefore approached the boy very abruptly and asked him if he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her.

The two of them went to a room occupied by a friend of the boy's. They had sex without speaking and parted quickly afterwards in mutual embarrassment. Three weeks later, having almost forgotten about the encounter, Angelou discovered that she was pregnant.

Although she initially saw this pregnancy as a disaster, the author quickly learned to care for her son, and she loves him deeply. Even the manner of his conception had its positive side. Although the sexual encounter was brief, awkward, and devoid of affection, it was initiated by Angelou, who remained in control throughout. Having endured sexual abuse and rape as a child, she was able to feel an all-important agency and security during this sexual experience.

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