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

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CHAPTER 10


Summary


Maya and Bailey live with their maternal grandparents for about six months before they move in with their mother. They are given plenty to eat, have their own room, and wear store bought clothes. Before long, Maya’s fears about being in St. Louis vanish and are replaced by the fear that she will be sent back to Stamps, away from her mother. She tries to be on her best behavior so she will not irritate anyone, especially not Vivian.

Grandmother Baxter is a quadroon, which means she is of mixed race but largely white. Raised by a German family in Cairo, Illinois, she came to St. Louis to study nursing. While working at the hospital, she met and married Grandfather Baxter. The two of them are opposites. Grandmother Baxter is extremely light skinned and speaks with a throaty German accent; Grandfather Baxter is very dark skinned and has the choppy speech associated with West Indians. Both of them are devoted to the family, which includes their six children and their dog.

Grandmother Baxter is an important figure in the community. She is a precinct captain and has "pull" with the police department. The local numbers runners, gamblers, lottery takers, and whiskey salesmen all come to her for favors. She usually manages to have bails reduced and to take the heat off gambling parlors. In return, she expects those that she has helped to bring in votes during the elections.

Maya and Bailey are shocked at the life they see in St. Louis, which is completely different than Stamps. They witness drinking, gambling, and all manner of Biblical violations, which are practiced so freely it is hard for Maya and Bailey to believe they are watching illegal activities. Maya and Bailey also learn about some of the finer things in life. They are given all kinds of treats to eat, like thin-sliced ham and jellybeans. They are sent to a real school, where they are amazed at its vastness and the formality of its teachers. In their primness, Maya thinks the teachers are talking down to her and the other students.


Since both Maya and Bailey read well and are very good at arithmetic, they are moved up one grade. Acting like his father, Bailey shows off his intelligence and makes the other children feel inferior. He and Maya both lose the habit of saying "Yes ma’am" and "No ma’am" to their elders and learn to say "Yes" and "No" instead.

Vivian, whom they call "Mother Dear," is a free-spirited woman. Maya and Bailey sometimes find her at Touie’s, a tavern owned by two Syrian brothers. The children are allowed into the tavern and are given soft drinks and boiled shrimp. They learn to dance and are known as "Bibbie’s darling babies."

Vivian’s brothers, Tom, Tutti, and Ira, are also well-known around town. Maya remarks that Grandfather Baxter raised the boys to know that if they were ever arrested for stealing, he would let them rot in jail; however, if they were ever jailed for fighting, he would sell everything he owned to get them out. Brought up with this kind of encouragement, the brothers have become fearsome characters; only the youngest, Billy, has not joined them in their misadventures

Maya loves her uncles and is thrilled by their meanness. Her favorite is Uncle Tommy, who often tells Maya that even though she is not pretty, she is very smart, which is preferable to beauty. Although he can be gruff, Tommy chews his words so that even his ordinary sentences sound like poetry. He is also a natural comedian.

Maya feels the binding quality of Baxter blood. The closeness comes naturally without being taught. Bailey, at the age of three, was displeased at Maya’s inability to walk and took it upon himself to teach her. He announced, "This is my sister. I have to teach her to walk." Bailey was also the one who gave her the nickname of Maya. He refused to call her Marguerite; instead he named her "My a Sister," which later became Maya.


Notes


In this chapter Maya describes the family with whom she finds herself after her father’s reappearance and subsequent desertion. Her grandmother is a total opposite of Momma, who was a Bible-quoting Fundamentalist. In contrast, Grandmother Baxter is a political wheeler-dealer with ties to questionable characters. She and her husband have raised six children. Three of the boys are well known as tough characters.

Maya and Bailey find the black section of St. Louis a total contrast to the quiet town of Stamps. There is so much crime around them in Missouri that they almost forget that they are witnessing illegal activities. They are also allowed to go into Touie’s tavern, where they learn to dance. The food is also very different. In Arkansas, the children used to cure their own meat and eat half-inch slabs of ham; in St. Louis they eat paper-thin slices of ham on thick black German Brot (bread). In Stamps, lettuce was used as a bed for salad, and peanuts were eaten roasted; in St. Louis lettuce is used in sandwiches, and peanuts are eaten mixed with jellybeans. Maya sums up the entire experience of St. Louis as some good and some bad, "salt and sugar together."

After several months of living with their grandparents, Maya and Bailey go to live with their mother, whom Bailey calls "Mother Dear." It is clear that he is crazy about her. Maya also sees her mother as unreal and godlike. Both children try to be on their best behavior so that they will not be sent back to Stamps.


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

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