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

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Opening with a childhood rhyme, Maya describes a picnic to which all the churches have been invited. It is a grand gathering. The women get a chance to show off their culinary skills, bringing fried chicken, salads, homemade pickles, country hams, sponge cakes, and chocolate cakes. At the picnic, they fry fish and barbecue spareribs. By the pond, proven fishermen and amateurs pull struggling fish from the swift water. Bailey and Maya carry in watermelons and ice them down in a large tub.

Maya feels awkward because of her age. She does not want to mix with the children, but she is still too young to be considered one of the women. When she needs to use the bathroom, she does not know whether to choose the one for women or for children. Unable to decide, she chooses neither and finds a secluded place for herself under a walnut tree.

To Maya’s delight, Louise Kendricks, a girl from her school whom she secretly admires, comes up and sits beside her. After sharing in a game, the girls hold hands and spin around until dizziness overcomes them. Then they fall down laughing. After the picnic, Louise becomes Maya’s first and best friend. They spend lots of time together and even try to learn the Tut language. Her relationship with Louise causes Maya to act like a child for the first time in a very long time.

One day at school Maya receives a note from Tommy Valdon, an eighth grader who asks her to be his valentine. Maya, afraid of advances from the opposite sex, shows the note to Louise, and they decide that she should ignore it. On Valentines Day, Maya’s class exchanges gifts and cards. Maya receives another letter from Tommy, her admirer. She decides that Tommy is not much of a threat and that she should be nice to him; however, every time she sees him, she nervously giggles. Eventually Tommy loses interest.


This chapter of Maya’s life is important, for it gives her a chance to be a child and relegate her past to the back of her mind. The summer picnic forces Maya to think about who and what she is. Fortunately, Louise Kendricks enters her life and helps Maya to be a child. Maya also takes her first tiny steps toward the opposite sex. When Tommy Valdon takes an interest in her, Maya begins to believe that someone could like her without wanting to hurt her.



Bailey is not quite eleven when he is introduced to the adult world of sex. He develops a game called "Momma and Poppa" in which Maya plays "Baby." She keeps watch while he takes a girl into his makeshift tent. The girls pull up their dresses, and Bailey wiggles his hips in pretense of sex. Six months into the game, Bailey meets Joyce, an orphaned country girl who has come to live with her aunt in Stamps. Joyce is fifteen, and Bailey admires her from a distance.

After some time, Bailey takes Joyce into the tent. Maya, stationed outside the tent, hears Joyce asking the astonished Bailey to take his pants off and "do it" for real. Maya warns Bailey and threatens Joyce, remembering her own terrible sexual encounter, but Joyce sends her away. Later Bailey tells Maya that Joyce has underarm hair and hair on "her thing" from "doing it" with so many boys. Bailey begins to see Joyce regularly. As their love affair progresses, Bailey’s stealing from the store increases. He gives Joyce money and food. She hangs around the store spending the money Bailey has given her.

Suddenly Joyce disappears. Maya does not notice until she sees a change in Bailey, who has become listless and uncommunicative. Joyce’s aunt comes to the store and tells them Joyce has run away with a railway porter. She left a note saying no one was good to her in Stamps, except Bailey. Maya talks to Bailey, who simply says, "She’s got somebody to do it to her all the time now." This is the last time Joyce is ever mentioned.


This chapter is Bailey’s initiation into sex and heartbreak. Curious about the opposite sex, he entices some of the girls his age to pull up their dresses for him in his makeshift ten.. Standing in front of them, he then wiggles in imitation of a sexual act. Bailey then meets Joyce, a fifteen-year-old girl who has just moved to Stamps. When he entices her into his tent, she suggests that they really have sex. Although Maya warns against it because of her miserable sexual encounter, Bailey does not listen.

Bailey soon falls head over heads in love with Joyce and steals things from Momma’s store to give to her. Then one day, Joyce suddenly disappears, leaving Bailey heartbroken. It is later learned that she has run away with the railroad porter. Although Maya is a total contrast to Joyce, the reader realizes that she could have become loose and hungry for love, just like Joyce.

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

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