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

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CHAPTER 18


Summary


In this chapter, Maya painfully describes the hopeless and tired faces of the black workers of Stamps. They have drooping shoulders and swollen feet, and they have grown so used to leftovers that they prefer them to freshly cooked food. In spite of the difficulty and poverty of their lives, they thank the Lord for what they have and entertain themselves by attending revival meetings. Maya refers to them as "a race of masochists," fated not only to live a poor and rough life but to like it.

Maya describes a tent revival in which the elders of different churches bring their congregations together under one makeshift roof to praise the Lord. For the most part, it is a joyful gathering, even though the different congregations possess their own peculiar snobberies. Teenagers enjoy themselves, for they take the revival meetings as an opportunity to court the opposite sex. The younger children, who are baffled about praising the Lord in a tent, act like they are attending a country fair.

Gathered in the tent, the cares of the world pass by them. "Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses... let them have their whiteness. It was better to be meek and lowly, spat upon and abused for this little time than to spend an eternity frying in the fires of hell."



Notes


This chapter is beautiful with its detailed descriptions and gracious in its appeal. Angelou’s words are carefully intertwined with "soul food" from the Bible, words that offer hope and justice for the faithful. She succeeds in capturing the spirit of southern black religious fervor with some humor, some skepticism, and a lot of affection. Although her fellow blacks in Stamps are poor and world-weary, they always keep the faith. She finds it ironic that "the meanest life, the poorest existence is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate rate."

The faithful black people of Stamps love to gather for tent revivals, where they praise the Lord. As the preachers talk the need to be charitable and about the fairness of heaven, the troubles of the segregated world outside the tent pass away. But once outside the tent, they spy the white folk, and reality quickly comes back to haunt them. As they walk towards home, they all wonder when their Promised Land will come.


CHAPTER 19


Summary


This chapter opens on the night of a championship fight. Momma’s store is crowded with people listening to the radio with a personal interest, as if Joe Louis were a brother or a father. Maya thinks that the men act like their entire existence depends on Louis’ victory. In truth, they are counting on the black fighter to help dispel the notion of black inferiority. Fortunately for them, Louis lives up to their expectations by winning. After his victory, the men in Momma’s store rejoice and celebrate the fact that Joe Louis has proven that blacks are not always inferior to whites. They are not, however, eager to travel to their homes, for "it wouldn’t do for a Black man and his family to be caught on a lonely road on a night when Joe Louis had proved that (they) were the strongest people in the world."


Notes


This chapter is about identification. The narrator compellingly addresses the need of the blacks, who have been losers for so long, to identify with a winner. If Jo Louis had lost, it would have meant, in the minds of the black men, the fall of their race. It would mean "another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped. A Black boy whipped and maimed. It was hounds on the trail of a man running through slimy swamps. It was a white woman slapping her maid for being forgetful."


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

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