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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, why does Bailey say "the baby prayer" before sleep in chapter 17?

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In chapter 17, Bailey says "the baby prayer" before he goes to sleep, confusing his older sister Maya because, as she says "we had been saying the 'Our Father, which art in heaven' for years" (Angelou, 98). Earlier in the evening, Bailey had been very late coming home, which concerned his family and for which he got a belt whipping from his Uncle Willie.

A few days later, Maya finds out why Bailey had come home so late. He had gone to the movies and seen an actress who looked just like his and Maya's mother (who they call Mother Dear). Although she was a white actress, Mother Dear was very light-skinned and Maya had "no difficulty believing that a white movie star looked like our mother" (Angelou, 98). Mother Dear had left Maya and Bailey to be raised by Momma, their grandmother, and their Uncle Willie. Bailey had been out late because he stayed to watch the film another time, because he missed his mother so much, and said "the baby prayer" because the experience reminded him of being a young child, and the prayers they used to say before bed.

In summary, Bailey says "the baby prayer" because he had seen a film star who looked like his mother, who had left his grandmother and uncle to raise him and his sister. Seeing this actress brought him back to his early childhood, when he would say "the baby prayer" instead of the one for older children.

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