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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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What examples from Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" show Bailey as a dynamic character?

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Bailey (Junior) changes in the course of Maya Angelou’s book in several ways. As both Maya (called Ritie, for Marguerite) and her brother are growing up, it is natural for them both to change and mature. Although the reader learns the most about Maya because she is the protagonist, her close relationship with her brother also receives considerable attention. We see Bailey primarily through her eyes and through their sibling relationship. In addition, as their experiences were so different and Bailey is male, he develops along different paths than his sister and, when we last see him, has become his own person.

After establishing their closeness during the first few chapters, Angelou shows Bailey’s roles in helping and trying to protect her during and after the time when Mr. Freeman was sexually assaulting her. Bailey is also differentiated from Maya by developing a closer relationship to their mother. Once she decides that Maya needs a different environment, she sends both children back to Stamps and their grandmother (Chapters 13 and 14). It is at this point that we begin to see real changes in Bailey. Although he knows the reasons for their move, he feels confined by the small-town atmosphere. In addition, he must also strive to understand why Maya is temporarily unable to speak.

As Bailey enters adolescence, he acts out with minor incidents of rebellion against his grandmother’s and Uncle Willie’s authority (Chapter 17). Developing an interest in girls, he gets involved with Joyce, with whom he has his first sexual experiences. She also initiates him into petty crime before she leaves him and leaves town (Chapter 21). This abandonment has a negative effect on Bailey, whom Angelou says became closed up and “paled.” A random accident that involves Bailey forces him to grow up quickly and face the town's racism—confronting an enigma, Angelou says—when he and others find a dead body in the river (Chapter 25). Transporting it by train, white passengers threaten Bailey because of his race.

The next phase of their lives opens when they move to California and are reunited with their parents. Both mother and father now have new partners, and the children—now both teenagers—must get used to them. For a period they are separated when Maya goes to live with her father and his girlfriend, while Bailey stays with their mother. When she returns, it is clear that a rift has grown between son and mother (Chapter 33). He realizes that they cannot mend things and that part of the issue is his growing up. He decides he must “push off from the wharf of safety into the sea of chance,” and leaves home to join the Merchant Marine.

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