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

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When Daddy Bailey returns home, Dolores is furious. She tells him that Maya is coming between them. Daddy Bailey laughs at her and walks out, saying Maya was right in calling her "pretentious."

Maya tries to reassure Dolores, but Dolores is so angry that she turns on Maya. She tells the girl to go back to her "whore" mother. Angered by the comment, Maya slaps Dolores, who then stabs Maya with a pair of scissors and chases her outside with a hammer. To protect herself, Maya jumps in Daddy Bailey’s car. Daddy Bailey comes out of a neighbor’s house to see what the commotion is about. He takes Dolores back into the house and then comes out to find Maya. When he realizes that his daughter is hurt, he takes Maya her to his friend’s house, where her wound is dressed. He then makes arrangements for her to stay at a friend’s trailer. Maya spends the night recuperating. The next day, with the uncertainty of her future weighing on her mind, she walks out of the trailer without telling anyone.


Bailey again fails as a father and boyfriend in this chapter. When Dolores tells him that Maya is coming between the two of them, Bailey laughs at the thought and walks out to a neighbor’s house without a word. Infuriated at his behavior, Dolores turns on Maya, telling her to go back and live with her "whore" mother. Upset by the slanderous name, Maya slaps Dolores, who retaliates by stabbing Maya with a pair of scissors and chasing her out of the house. Maya hides in the car for protection.

When Daddy Bailey hears the commotion, he comes out to see what is going on. Quickly assessing the situation, he takes Dolores back inside and then goes to check on Maya in the car. When he sees she is hurt, he does not get her medical attention; instead, he takes her to the house of his friend, where her wound is dressed. . Maya reasons that her dad, who is always so concerned with appearances, was unwilling to let anyone know about his girlfriend's act of violence.

Instead of trying to comfort Maya, Bailey sends his wounded daughter to the trailer of a friend to spend the night. Maya is so outraged over the whole incident that she decides she must depart from the lives of Daddy Bailey and Dolores. Without knowing where she is headed, she simply packs her bag and leaves. After her dare devil act of driving the car in Mexico, Maya feels confident in her ability to handle anything that might come up.

It is obvious that the encounter with Dolores has stirred up old memories for Maya. She thinks about how she was hurt in the past by Mr. Freeman. She is also afraid to tell anyone about the cruelty of Dolores, for she fears that she might be murdered, like Freeman, and she does not want another death on her conscience.



Maya enters a junkyard after dark and spends the night there. The next morning she wakes to find that there is a whole commune of runaways, from all races, staying in the junkyard. Most of them are about her age, and they support themselves by doing odd jobs. Bootsie, the leader of the commune, holds all the money, which is used to buy necessities. On weekends the runaways go to the home of Lee Arthur, who belongs to the commune but is not a runaway, in order to bathe and iron clothes.

Having few options, Maya decides to join the commune of runaways. Within a month, she is taught how to drive, to curse, and to dance. She even enters a local dance competition with a Mexican boy as her partner and wins second prize. For the first time in years, Maya feels that she has real friends. As a result, she loses some of her insecurities.

Eventually Maya decides to go home to Vivian. When she contacts her mother to ask for a ticket home, Vivian does not even know that she has run away; but she agrees to help Maya. When she says good-bye to her commune friends, Maya feels sad, but she knows it is better to return to her mother in San Francisco. When she arrives, she is "leaner than usual, fairly unkempt and with no luggage."


Maya’s brief stint with freedom and independence changes her completely. As a junkyard runaway, she develops confidence and self-esteem. Her peers, a "raggle taggle" mix of different races and cultures, initiate her into the "brotherhood of man" by teaching her new things and by accepting her as she is. For most of her life Maya has seen herself as "outside the pale of the human race," but in the junkyard she feels that she belongs. As a result, she loses her sense of insecurity. Maya, however, wants a better life for herself than what the junkyard commune can offer. As a result, she contacts Vivian and asks for help in getting back to San Francisco.

The fact that Vivian did not even know that Maya had run away proves once again what poor parents that Bailey and Vivian really are. Daddy Bailey did not even bother to let Maya’s mother know that her daughter was missing; and Vivian has obviously gone for more than a month without trying to contact or check on her daughter.

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

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