Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 2015: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Meeting Details: We are meeting at Amanda's house on Thursday, January 8th at 7:45. With discussion to begin at 8:00.

Menu: St. Louis or the Stamps

Maya sure talks about food a lot!  We hear about the food that Momma makes, the food in St. Louis, and the food in San Francisco. The differences between the urban and rural settings are expressed in many ways, but the differences in food are the most mouth-watering.

In Stamps, the whole community (men and women) come together to preserve all the food for the year. For breakfast, they eat thick slices of meat they have cured themselves. (In order to get fresh meat, the children have to go to the white part of town, where people have refrigerators.) Peanuts are brought in from the field and roasted at home, as a treat.

The city slickers in St. Louis and San Francisco are quite different. In the city, everything is bought, not made. Maya and Bailey eat thinly sliced deli ham and place little leaves of lettuce on their sandwiches. Here, peanuts are salted and eaten with sugary jellybeans in paper bags. (Yum.) Their grandmother eats German br├Ątwurst, and their mother takes them on a world tour of ethnic restaurants.

So I will leave it up to you. Bring something from the Stamps or St. Louis. You can choose.  Please add your item to the comments 

Discussion Questions:

1. Did you like the book? Why or why not?

2. Why does Angelou include the opening church scene as an introduction to the book? Why would she choose to lead with this, and how does this scene tie in with the story as a whole?

3. Could Maya's story still happen today? What would be the same? What would be different?

4. Does Maya’s sense of displacement make her susceptible to Mr. Freeman’s sexual advances? How does the rape and Mr. Freeman’s death influence her throughout the rest of the book?

5. Following her rape, Marguerite becomes silent. Why does she refrain from speaking? What allows her to find her voice again?

6. The novel is pretty funny, don't you think? Why do you think Angelou wrote it this way when it treats such sensitive and serious subjects?

7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography, but it also has its fair share of fiction. How important are the facts when it comes to telling the truth?

8. What characters serve as positive role models for Maya? Specifically, how does Maya come to her conclusions about the strength of black women?

9. The text presents us with many variations of Maya’s name, culminating in a pivotal scene wherein Mrs. Viola Cullinan refers to Angelou as “Mary,” instead of “Marguerite.” What is the significance of this scene? How does Maya react? Are her actions justified?
10. Where does the title of the book come from and why is it significant? Where do we find this image of the caged bird applied in the story both literally and figuratively?

11. Why does Angelou devote an entire chapter to the Joe Louis fight? How do the characters in the book react to the fight? Why is it significant? What do we learn from this scene?
12. What impact does literature have on Maya and her brother? Where in the story do we witness its effects?

13. How does I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings address racial stereotypes? What is Maya's view of "whitefolk" and how do the so called "whitefolk" perceive African Americans? What do we learn about racism and prejudice?
14. What's up with the end of the novel? Do you think it's kind of sudden? What were you expecting?

15. Would you recommend this book? If so, to whom?  If not, why not?


  1. I plan to come and I'm bringing two incredibly random things - southern tea cookies and pineapple :)

  2. I'll be there... I'll bring some cake "dripping with icing" like the ladies brought to the Stamps summer picnic.

  3. I'll bring salted peanuts and jelly beans :-)


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