I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What happens in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou recounts the story of her life up to the birth of her child. Though she faces many hardships in her life, including being raped and living in a junkyard, she's able to find love and happiness as a mother.

  • A young Maya Angelou, then known as Marguerite Johnson, is raped by a friend of her mother's. This results in Marguerite being mute for five years.

  • Marguerite moves to San Francisco, where she makes history as the first black employee of the San Francisco streetcars.

  • In California, she begins to explore her sexuality and quickly becomes pregnant. At age 16, she gives birth to a son—an event Angelou describes as the best moment of her life.

Download I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary

Summary of the Novel
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the autobiography of Marguerite Johnson, later known as Maya Angelou. The book takes the reader from Marguerite’s arrival in Stamps, Arkansas, to the birth of her son.

Through the writer’s vivid portrayals of events, the reader experiences Marguerite’s insecurity, her love of family, her church and school experiences which were so important in her growing up, and her visits to her mother and father. On one of these visits to her mother’s, Marguerite is raped by her mother’s friend. The ultimate result of this violation is his death at the hands of Mother Dear’s brothers. Marguerite is mute for some time after this. (Some sources say she did not speak for five years.)

Marguerite describes in detail how she returns to Stamps and is at last able to make two friends: Mrs. Flowers and Louise Kendricks. As Marguerite matures she is able to observe the social order around her in Stamps. She describes the church picnic, the congregating of the neighbors in the Store to hear the fights on the radio, and the pride of the community in the eighth-grade graduation exercises. All the while, the young narrator is observing the class and caste system of the South.

It is after her brother encounters a man being dragged from the river that her grandmother takes her to California to live with her mother. Marguerite is impressed with how her grandmother, who has never before left the vicinity of Stamps, is able to function in a new social structure. Marguerite makes the reader aware of the class and caste system which exists in the West. It is when her father invites her to visit him in another town in California that she becomes aware of still another social structure.

Her father lives with Dolores Stockland, who becomes very angry when Marguerite goes with her father into Mexico and does not return until the next day. An argument ensues and Dolores cuts Marguerite. Marguerite’s father is ashamed and embarrassed by the incident and leaves Marguerite with friends; Marguerite runs away.

Marguerite spends her first night in a junkyard and wakes the next morning to find faces peering in the windows at her. She meets a gang of juveniles who live in the junked cars and who have...

(The entire section is 1,746 words.)