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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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Who is Florida Taylor and what was the ceremony's impact in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

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Florida Taylor is the deceased wife of one of Stamps' denizens, Mr. George Taylor. Florida Taylor had died the summer before, and George Taylor, who had been married to her for forty years, depends upon the generosity of his neighbors for his meals and other needs. In Chapter 22, he comes by the Henderson home, and Momma feeds him a supper of hot soup.

While the adults are talking, Maya, or Sister as she is affectionately called, remembers Florida Taylor's funeral, which she had been forced to attend. Momma had told her that she needed to go to the funeral because Florida Taylor had given Maya a brooch. Although Maya "had followed a few coffins up the hill from the church to the cemetery," she had never had to sit through a funeral service. At eleven years old, death to Maya was "more unreal than frightening."

Florida Taylor's funeral changed all that. For the first time, Maya becomes aware of death that could actually happen to her;

"oppressed beyond belief, (her) own mortality (is) borne in upon (her) on sluggish tides of doom."

When the time comes for the children to view the body of the deceased, Maya

"look(s) down on the stark face that seem(s) suddenly so empty and grope(s) for life with a hunger both greedy and hateful."

Maya is mesmerized by the dead face of Florida Taylor, and realizes that the strength of death cannot be resisted. Before that day, she had never really thought much about the end of life, and certainly she had never thought about it in relation to herself, but at the funeral she sees its inevitability clearly, and "surrender(s) herself to the grimness of death" (Chapter 22).

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