I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Summary
The first volume in Maya Angelou’s autobiography series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, first published in 1969, tells the story of her formative years. Telling the story of her life from the ages of three to seventeen, Angelou writes of her struggles against racism growing up in Arkansas. Young Marguerite, called “Maya” by her brother, comes to realize that most of her problems are the result of the racism of her neighbors.
While still quite young, Maya and her older brother are sent to live with their grandmother and disabled uncle, abandoned by their parents. Momma, as the children call her, owns a local general store, which provides some level of material comfort, but they are still subject to daily racist taunts and treated less than human. When she is eight, her father takes her to St. Louis, but leaves her with her mother, where Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Acquitted of the crime, he is nevertheless murdered by Maya’s uncles, which causes Maya to withdraw and remain mute for many years.
It is only after being sent to San Francisco, where Momma hopes Maya can escape the racism of Stamps, Arkansas, that Maya begins to come alive again, finding joy in studying dance and drama. She becomes the first African American female streetcar conductor. However, a sexual encounter with a boy in high school leaves her pregnant, a condition she hides from her family throughout her senior year of high school.