Thursday, September 27, 2007

Section 1- 39
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
By: Maya Angelou
When Marguerite was three and her brother bailey was four, their parents put them on a train in California and sent them to Stamps to live with their father's mother. Marguerite doesn't remember much of the trip, but she knows that other "Negroes" on the train were kind to them. They live with Momma and her son, Uncle Willie at the Store, which Momma has owned and run for twenty-five years, is in many ways the center of activity in the black part of town.
People use it as a gathering place, and it provides all kinds of supplies to farmers. Each morning, Momma gets up very early and prays earnestly, then calls her household to work. Marguerite enjoys listening to the black farmers chatting in the morning: they are full of energy and competitive spirit. Each one says he will pick more cotton than the next. In the early morning, the Store feels Almost ghostly. But in the evening, reality sets in heavily: everyone is dead tired, and depressed. They are overworked and terribly poor and they get no rest or relief. Later in life, Marguerite will bitterly remember these scenes when she confronts images of happy, carefree cotton pickers. Marguerite and Bailey, at ages five and six, recite multiplication tables for their Uncle Willie, who pretends he will burn them if they make a mistake. Once, Marguerite nearly does get burned, because, "like most children, I thought if I could face the worst danger voluntarily, and triumph, I would forever have power over it." She jumps toward the stove. Uncle Willie is crippled, and Marguerite and Bailey feel awed by this-they know the random tragedy could have easily happened to them and criticize him because of it. Over and over, Momma tells the story of how Willie was dropped when he was a baby. He is rejected by his peers because he can't work, and he is proud and sensitive, so that he can't pretend he isn't crippled or that people don't resent him for it. Marguerite only saw him pretend once: she came into the Store and he was alone with a couple who were clearly tourists. He was standing up, pretending he didn't have to lean against anything. His cane was hidden. He told her firmly to leave the room, and she did so, but she watched him from outside and she understood that, just this once, he was presenting the illusion that he was normal. Marguerite falls in love with Shakespeare. He is the first white writer she has ever loved-she respects others, like Kipling, but she usually saves her passion for Langston Hughes and other black writers. She convinces herself it's okay to love Shakespeare because he's been dead for so long that it doesn't matter what race he was. Still, she and Bailey keep their reading of him a secret, because they know that if Momma found out about it she would demand to know if he was white, and they would have to tell the truth.


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