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Free Study Guide for I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: Book Summary

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CHAPTER 8


Summary


This chapter begins with a harsh criticism of the whites in Stamps. The blacks, who are poor and have little, judge the white people to be wealthy and decadent, with their fancy cars and glistening white houses. They are also very prejudiced. They will not even allow black people to buy vanilla ice cream except on the Fourth of July. The rest of the year, the blacks in Stamps must be content with chocolate ice cream.

Although Maya believes that God is white, she does not think he is prejudiced. She also believes that Momma has more money than the "powhitetrash," and Momma is much wiser about life and finances. In order to save money, she makes all the clothes that Maya and Bailey wear. In the summer, the children are expected to go barefoot, and their shoes are resoled when they are worn. Momma also encourages the children not to waste or want.

The depression, which hits the white section of Stamps with "cyclonic impact," seeps very slowly into the black area of town. The blacks are not even aware of it for two years. When the owners of the cotton fields, where the blacks work, reduce the payment for a pound of cotton from ten cents to seven and then five cents, the blacks begin to struggle. There is not enough money to buy food for themselves, and they certainly cannot afford the feed for their hogs and cows. In order to eat, most of the blacks have to go on government relief and accept handouts from welfare agencies.


Maya’s family is one of the few black families in Stamps that does not depend on the government to exist. Momma manages to keep her business going by devising a trade agreement. She barters the goods in the store for food. As a result, Maya and Bailey never go hungry; however, they must drink powdered milk and eat powdered eggs received in trade. After several years, the Depression begins to leave Stamps as slowly as it arrived. It is not until the start of World War II that there is any significant change in the economy.

Maya never hears from her parents; she thinks they must both be dead. Then one Christmas she and Bailey receive Christmas presents from them, sent from California.

Learning that her parents are alive upsets Maya. She believes she must have done some terribly wrong to be sent away from them. She is so upset that she must take out her frustration. She tears up the white doll with blue eyes that she has received as their gift; but she keeps the tea set, hoping to someday show it to her mother. She again has hope that her mother will come and get her in the future.


Notes


This chapter gives a clear picture of the prejudice and poverty that the black people in Stamps must endure. In comparison to the wealthy and seemingly decadent whites, the blacks have nothing. In order to make ends meet, most of them must raise their own food, sew their own clothes, and resole their old shoes. Although the blacks have little to spare, they are always generous with one another.

Since they have little to lose, the blacks are not immediately affected by the Depression. Then, however, the whites begin to lower the wages that they pay for picking cotton. As a result, the blacks must turn to the government and welfare agencies in order to exist. Momma’s family is one of the few in town that is able to make it without assistance. In order to feed her family, Momma trades merchandise from the store for things to eat. Although they never have treats, Maya and Bailey never go hungry.

Momma teaches Maya and Bailey never to be wasteful. She makes them go barefoot in the summer so they will not wear out their shoes, and she makes all of their clothes. As a result, Maya thinks that Uncle Willie is extravagant and vain, for he has seven shirts, flowered suspenders, and expensive shoes, all store bought.

The Christmas gifts, sent from their parents, upset Maya and Bailey more than they please them. The children had believed that their parents must surely be dead, since they had not come to retrieve them. When Maya learns that her mother and father are alive, she believes she must have done something terrible to make them not want her. Now that she knows the truth, she hopes that someday her mother will come for her.


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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Free BookNotes

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