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

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A year after receiving the Christmas gifts, Maya’s eight-year-old world is turned upside down, for her father comes to Stamps. He is bigger and more handsome than she ever imagined. He also has a good sense of humor. Maya is so proud of him that she wants to show him off to everyone. She has the opportunity. For weeks after his arrival, the store is full of people who went to school with him or have heard about him. When they pay him attention, Maya’s father struts around for their benefit.

Father Bailey announces that he will be leaving and taking the children with him. Uncle Willie, who has suffered long enough under his brother’s shadow, is happy at the news. Bailey is also excited, for he wants to go to California with his father. Maya is less sure about her change in life. Although Momma is sad to be losing her grandchildren, she makes them some clothes and reminds the children that they must be good.

The day finally arrives for the three of them to depart. The trip is long and monotonous. Maya does not feel very comfortable, but Bailey fits right in with his father. As they near St. Louis, their father surprises them with the news that they are about to meet their mother. This unexpected turn of events frightens Maya, and she says that she wants to return to Stamps. In reality, she is afraid of being rejected by her mother, Vivian. In her nervousness, Maya asks Bailey in Pig Latin if he is sure that this is really their father.

Although Bailey ignores the question, Father Bailey responds. Maya is shocked to learn that Pig Latin is not Bailey’s made-up language.

Upon seeing her mother, Maya immediately judges her to be gorgeous, and Bailey seems to instantly fall in love with her. Maya reasons that her mother’s beauty is the cause of her giving up Bailey and herself; "she was too beautiful to have children." Maya then sees that Bailey resembles their mother, which makes Maya feel disconnected.

Father Bailey soon departs, leaving Maya and Bailey in St. Louis with their mother. Maya thinks that she has been left with a stranger.


Maya is shocked when her father shows up in Stamps, driving a clean gray car. Although she has often fantasized about him, he is much larger and more handsome than she had ever imagined. He is also dressed differently than the black men she has known in Stamps, for his clothes are tight and woolly. His language is also different, for he speaks English better than the school principal. Maya thinks that he has a reason to act so proud and to wear a twisted smile, which is always cocked to one side or the other.

At first Maya wants everyone to see her father and be envious of her, but when she realizes that people are going to compare her with him, she wishes that no one would see him. She starts building fantasies that she is an adopted child, an orphan "picked up to provide Bailey with company." Her father makes matters worse by poking fun at her. Maya reaches the point that she wants him to leave so she can return to her more solitary existence without worrying as to whether or not Father Bailey loves her.

Unexpectedly, Father Bailey asks the children if they would like to go with him. Though Maya is not sure about leaving Stamps and Momma, Bailey is eager to go with his dad. Maya goes for solitary walks in order to think about staying behind. She tries to imagine what life would be like without her brother. In the end, she has no choice. Momma sews her new clothes and gets her ready to depart with Father Bailey. Before long, the three of them depart. Maya still feels uncertain about the change in her life, but Bailey is delighted.

As they approach St. Louis, Father Bailey announces that Maya and Bailey are going to meet their mother. Neither of the children can believe that Vivian is so beautiful. They seem to forgive her immediately for having abandoned them. Maya reasons that she is simply too pretty to have children complicating her life.

Before Maya and Bailey have a chance to settle in, Father Bailey announces that he is leaving them behind for a second time. The betrayal has lost some of its sting, however, since the children are used to being left. This hand-off is merely one in a series of hand-offs they must endure.

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