Notes on I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Themes

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Topic Tracking: Ignorance

Chapter 2

Ignorance 1: Though Momma doesn't know who Shakespeare is, Marguerite and Bailey anticipate that she would not approve of him, simply because he was white. To her, race is the most important issue, but it clearly keeps her ignorant about many subjects.

Chapter 4

Ignorance 2: Marguerite, like most black people in Stamps, knows almost nothing about white people. She does not even consider them human: they are too different from her. She sees them as creatures with see-through skin, who are unpredictable, incomprehensible and very strange.

Chapter 8

Ignorance 3: Since Marguerite and Bailey don't know who their parents are, or why they abandoned them, the children live in painful ignorance. What did they do to deserve such treatment? It seems unfair, but there is nothing they can do except wait, half-loving, half-hating their parents.

Chapter 11

Ignorance 4: Maya doesn't know what Mr. Freeman is doing to her. She likes him, though, and she wishes she could know. She doesn't understand why adults have to be so secretive and mysterious, why they can't take the time to explain anything to her, when she tries so hard to understand.

Chapter 13

Ignorance 5: Maya does not understand that what happened was not her fault: in fact, she does not really understand what happened at all. She is not sure when to tell the truth and when to lie, and no one helps her. It is especially ridiculous that women in the courtroom think that she is on their level, just because she has "had sex," when she doesn't even really know what sex is.

Chapter 15

Ignorance 6: Momma believes what she wants to believe about her religion (and most other things), and she will not listen to any other interpretation, especially not from her grandchildren. She does not often change, or accept new information into her life.

Chapter 23

Ignorance 7: Completely ignorant of who is audience is and what they want out of life, Mr. Donleavy speaks to the graduating class as if they were fools. He assumes they all want to be sports heroes, because he can't imagine a black person using his or her mind. Though he probably has never spoken at length with a black person, he thinks he knows who they are and what they are capable of.

Chapter 25

Ignorance 8: Bailey, and even Willie, live in terrible ignorance, never knowing why white men hate them so much, simply knowing that they are hated and must protect themselves at all costs. They are never given an explanation, though they desperately search for some understanding of why they must live in fear and poverty.

Chapter 29

Ignorance 9: Daddy Clidell's friends are able to run a profitable business by cheating white people. Their schemes are easy to pull off, because the people they cheat never believe that a black person could be smart enough to cheat them. Although they are completely ignorant as to what black people know and are capable of, these rich white men think they have complete control over every deal.

Chapter 31

Ignorance 10: Maya is upset when Dolores calls her mother a whore, partly because she is insulted, but also because she is afraid Dolores might be right. Maya has no idea whether the accusation is true or not, so it terrifies her to hear it spoken. Maya lashes out at Dolores because there is nothing else she can do: she is so ignorant of her mother's true nature that she cannot say for certain whether Dolores is right or wrong. It is this uncertainty that is most upsetting to Maya. She wants her mother to be perfect, but she is aware of how little she knows about her.

Chapter 35

Ignorance 11: Maya worries that she might be a lesbian, though if she had any idea what a lesbian was, she would not be worried. Equipped with an overactive imagination, self-consciousness, and a lot of rumors, Maya decides she must be abnormal, and decides she needs to have sex with a man to make herself normal.

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