Notes on I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Themes

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Topic Tracking: Strength

Chapter 4

Strength 1: Maya's closeness to Bailey gives her strength in a world that rejects her. They laugh and read together. He offers her an escape from the cold and frightening reality of Stamps, and takes care of her in a way that no one else is willing to.

Chapter 5

Strength 2: Momma gets a strange kind of strength and dignity from not fighting with the powhitetrash girls. She simply allows them to be cruel, but refuses to be cruel back. She does not sink to their level. She hums her hymn and waits for them to go, almost pretending that they are not there, and not letting anything they do get to her.

Chapter 6

Strength 3: Though Marguerite is eventually upset with Bailey for making her laugh so hard, she has a humor connection to him that enables her to endure even the greatest boredom and insult. They ridicule Reverend Thomas together, when everyone else seems to respect him, and Bailey allows her to laugh at the ridiculous aspects of church, which everyone else takes deadly seriously.

Chapter 11

Strength 4: Though she feels very alone in St. Louis, Maya learns to pretend that the books she reads are her real life. Instead of a poor, unwanted ugly girl, she is a beautiful princess who has simply been mistaken for a maid. She believes desperately in the morals of the stories, and is sometimes able to forget her life for a moment.

Chapter 18

Strength 5: Maya's neighbors find unbelievable strength in their faith: it is largely what helps them work their broken bodies to death, day after day, for very low wages. Yet they also, she notices, take heart in the particular idea in their religion that those who are cruel and selfish (white people) on Earth will be punished when they die. They are thus able to hate white people (not a Christian idea) with a kind of spiritual righteousness that masks their very real and personal hate.

Chapter 22

Strength 6: Maya is amazed at her grandmother's power. Momma turned a terrifying ghost story into a harmless dream. As she crawls into bed with her grandmother, Maya thinks that there is nothing Momma can't do, and feels very safe.

Chapter 23

Strength 7: Even when their hopes seem to be crushed, Maya and her neighbors find the courage to keep trying. Maya claims that the reason for this is directly related to the power of their many different songs: blues songs, poetry, sermons, etc. These songs bring the people together and give them strength.

Chapter 27

Strength 8: Maya understands that the only way for black people to remain strong and dignified in the face of racism is to respond with dignity to attacks. She notes that the war veteran in the story does not yell at the white woman, or argue with her. He simply and quietly points out that she is wrong.

Chapter 29

Strength 9: Maya implies that black people are able to survive because of their ability to move easily between very different worlds. They obey whites when they have to, they steal from the racist, cruel ones, and they keep a sense of humor. They, for the most part, support each other. This keeps them strong, even when the majority of their nation is against them.

Chapter 36

Strength 10: Though Maya is afraid to have her baby alone, she is strong enough not to force its father to take care of her. She knows he had no part in her decision to have the child, so she knows she must shoulder the responsibility alone. Though she is afraid at first, once she realizes that she is capable of loving and caring for her young son, she relaxes and feels more confident.

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