I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Suggested Essay Topics
by Maya Angelou

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Suggested Essay Topics

1. The narrator describes herself at various points in the Preface. Give a written description of the narrator. Do you think the narrator has a positive self-image? Explain.

2. The narrator fantasizes during the Preface. What are some of her fantasies?

Chapter 1
1. The setting is an important part of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Describe the Store in the morning. What smells, sights, etc. are there? Contrast this with a store opening in this day and time.

2. Contrast the pickers in the morning and in the evening.

Chapter 2
1. Describe Uncle Willie’s teaching methods. How do his methods differ from those of a typical elementary school teacher? How are they the same?

2. Angelou uses a young child to reveal Uncle Willie to the reader. What does she tell the reader about Uncle Willie? Describe the tragedy of Willie’s lameness as told through Marguerite. Can a young, innocent narrator present an accurate picture of Uncle Willie? Explain your answer.

Chapter 3
1. Marguerite performed many tasks about the Store and home. Why would Marguerite consider feeding the pigs one of the worst of the chores? Do you think that Marguerite during the Depression had to assume more responsibilities than children today? Explain your answer.

2. Mr. Steward came to tell the family to hide Uncle Willie. Why was Marguerite angry at Mr. Steward about this? Describe hiding Uncle Willie. What was Uncle Willie’s reaction to the hiding? Why do you think that Uncle Willie behaved in this manner?

Chapter 4
1. Marguerite and Bailey have the same parents and are growing up together. What similarities do you see between the two characters? What are the contrasts that you see?

2. Marguerite presents the reader with a look at the segregated Stamps of the 1930s. Describe Stamps as it was when Marguerite was growing up there. What differences would you expect to find there more than half a century later?

Chapter 5
1. Describe Mrs. Henderson’s encounter with the powhitetrash. Why do you think Mrs. Henderson behaved as she did? What feelings do you think she had after the encounter?

2. What values did Mrs. Henderson teach her grandchildren? Do you think these values were the same as those taught in the homes of the powhitetrash? Explain your answer.

Chapter 6
1. Describe Reverend Thomas. What were Marguerite’s feelings about the Reverend Thomas? Why would she not shake hands with him?

2. The narrator in Chapter 6 is very young. What evidence do you have that she is an innocent child? How does her innocence affect what is told in this chapter? Give examples.

Chapter 7
1. How did Mrs. Henderson react when she was called on to lead a hymn? What do you think these motions and movements mean?

2. Describe the incident when Momma was called “Mrs.” by the judge. What is the symbolism in the story? How do whites react to the story? How do Negroes react to the story, according to Marguerite?

Chapter 8
1. What did the children receive for Christmas? How did they feel about the gifts? What were some of the questions the gifts raised for them?

2. Describe the feelings that Marguerite had toward the white “things.” Why do you think that Marguerite had mixed feelings?

Chapter 9
1. Describe Bailey Henderson, Sr., as he appeared to Marguerite. Do you see any weaknesses in Bailey Henderson, Sr.? Do you see any strengths in him? Explain.

2. Describe Marguerite’s grandmother. Do you see any weaknesses in her? What are her greatest strengths? Explain

Chapter 10
1. Compare and contrast the schools, the classmates, the curriculum and the teachers that Marguerite and Bailey are accustomed to in Stamps with those they find in St. Louis.

2. Describe Grandmother Baxter in appearance and in personality. Compare and contrast her with Marguerite’s other grandmother, Mrs. Annie Henderson.

Chapter 11
1. What was Marguerite’s routine after school each day? Compare and contrast this routine to her after-school routine in Stamps.

2. Describe how Marguerite copes with her life in St. Louis and with the...

(The entire section is 1,812 words.)