Study Guide

Bailey Johnson (Daddy Bailey) in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Maya Angelou

Bailey Johnson (Daddy Bailey)

Maya's father breezes into Stamps like a storm. He's tall, good-looking, drives a fancy car, and speaks the Queen's English. Everyone thinks he must be rich, and while he is in Stamps, he's the center of attention:

For three weeks the Store was filled with people who had gone to school with him or heard about him. The curious and envious milled around and he strutted, throwing ers and errers all over the place. (9.4)

Imagine a good looking ladies' man who cooks fancy food, speaks Spanish, and is more educated than most people you've ever met. Too good to be true, right?

A Lost Boy from the South

Right. Underneath all of that glitz and glamor is a lost little boy. When Maya and Daddy Bailey go to Mexico, we see a whole different side of him. For the first time, that quizzical smile and mocking laugh leave his face. He is relaxed, he stops talking so oddly, and he seems genuine:

In the Mexican bar, Dad had an air of relaxation which I had never seen visit him before. There was no need to pretend in front of those Mexican peasants. (30.21)

Turns out Bailey's pompousness is just a cover-up for his insecurities. Maya figures that he must have been born in the wrong place to the wrong people, longing for grandeur—sounds kind of like Dolores. A match made in heaven.

Being from a hard-working family in the South, how was he supposed to become glamorous? He moved north, got educated, and adopted a strange accent and a wry smile. (Does this sound like a black Jay Gatsby to anyone else?) But underneath he is still just Bailey.

Big Daddy Bailey

In Vivian's "Character Analysis," we wonder if she's a good mom or not. No such question here—Daddy Bailey is a rotten dad, no questions asked. He never takes care of his children, and the one time Maya is with him she ends up crashing a car and getting attacked by his girlfriend.

Did you notice that Maya doesn't call him Daddy Bailey until after Maya finds her first "real" father in Daddy Clidell? Yeah, there's a reason for that.