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

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LITERARY CRITICISM / PLOT NOTES


CHAPTER 17


Summary


This chapter begins with Maya taking a nostalgic look at her childhood. She recalls playing mumbledypeg around the chinaberry tree, eating peanut patties, and spending Saturdays scrubbing floors or shining shoes. When Momma starts giving her a weekly allowance of ten cents, Maya gives her money to Bailey, who buys books for her to read. Bailey uses any extra money to go to the movies, where he must sit in the "colored balcony."

Bailey has not adjusted well to being back in Stamps. He is usually quiet and dejected although he does not say what troubles him. One Saturday, Bailey fails to come home before sundown. Always worried about white prejudice, racist violence, and the possibility of a lynching, a concerned Momma takes Maya and goes to look for him. When they find Bailey, he looks miserable, but he has no excuses to offer. When they arrive at home, Uncle Willie gives him a whipping with a belt. Maya hears Bailey saying a prayer.

That night Bailey tells Maya about an actress named Kay Francis, whom he has seen in a movie. Since she reminds him of "Mother Dear," he wants to take Maya to see her in the next movie that comes to town. After viewing Kay Francis a couple of months later, Maya agrees that the white actress almost looks like her mother’s twin. She is happy to have watched her on the screen, but she notices that Bailey is again morose. On the way home, Bailey gives her a real scare. When he sees a train approaching, he tries to catch a ride on it, for he wants to go to California and find his mother. Unsuccessful in his attempt, he is almost hit by the train.


Maya relates that a year later Bailey boards a train for California to find his "Mother Dear." He winds up stranded in Baton Rouge, helplessly alone.


Notes


Things are not the same when the children return to Stamps. The store seems like a "strange country," and everyone behaves like "newly arrived immigrants." Bailey, in particular, seems miserable. He acts like his soul has flown away. It is obvious that he misses his mother terribly. One Saturday, when he does not come home before dark, Momma and Maya go to look for him. When they find him, he has no excuses for worrying them. At home he is punished by Uncle Willie for his behavior.

That night Bailey tells Maya what is troubling him. He has seen a movie starring an actress who looks just like "Mother Dear." Two months later, he takes Maya to see a movie starring the same actress, named Kay Francis. Maya agrees that the white starlet is almost a double of their mother. Maya understands why Bailey did not share his secret with Momma or Uncle Willie. There is not enough of Mother Dear to go around, and neither Momma nor Uncle Willie would understand Bailey’s reaction to seeing her double.

After the movie, Maya is happy, but Bailey seems miserable. He is then almost killed when he runs in front of a train, trying to catch it. Maya thinks of the time nearly a year later that Bailey does catch the train to go looking for "Mother Dear" in California. He winds up stranded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


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

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