Study Guide

Mrs. Bertha Flowers in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Maya Angelou

Mrs. Bertha Flowers

What I Want to Be When I Grow up

Maya has a total girl-crush on Mrs. Flowers. This lady is beautiful, genteel, and poised. She dresses like she is going to have tea with the Queen, and she doesn't laugh but only smiles gracefully or giggles. Oh my! Mrs. Flowers is everything Maya wants to be when she grows up.

Poor Momma kind of gets the shaft compared to Mrs. Flowers. When Momma tries to reach out to this woman, Maya is totally embarrassed:

Why on earth did she insist on calling her Sister Flowers? Shame made me want to hide by face. Mrs. Flowers deserved better than to be called Sister. Then, Momma left out the verb. Why not ask, "How are you, Mrs. Flowers?" With the unbalanced passion of the young, I hated her for showing her ignorance to Mrs. Flowers. It didn't occur to me for many years that they were as alike as sisters, separated only by formal education. (15.7)

Maybe that's why Maya loves Mrs. Flowers so much—she's just like Momma, but with the education that Maya dreams of having.

While we're making comparisons, let's take a look at the other woman that Maya admires: her mom. While Vivian's beauty and charm might be unattainable for Maya, Mrs. Flowers seems like someone Maya could actually become—after all, most of Mrs. Flowers' allure comes from education. Where Vivian is as a force of nature, Mrs. Flowers appears to control nature:

Had the grace of control to appear warm in the coldest weather, and on the Arkansas summer days it seemed she had a private breeze which swirled around, cooling her. (15.2)

In a world were Maya has little control over her life and books are her only friend, Mrs. Flowers is the ultimate role model.

The Mentor

Maya's meeting with Mrs. Flowers is the first step in her healing process after her rape. After returning to Stamps, Maya is totally stuck in a rut. She doesn't talk—well, actually, she doesn't do much of anything. But the meetings with Mrs. Flowers start a chain-reaction, which gets her reading again, writing, and even finding a friend. How does she do it? Simple. Through poetry:

"Your grandmother says you read a lot. Every chance you get. That's good, but not good enough. Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with the shades of deeper meaning."

I memorized the part about the human voice infusing words. It seemed to valid and poetic. (15.19-20)

By introducing Maya to the power of the spoken word, Mrs. Flowers provides one of the first links for us between young Maya the character and the Maya we know as a famous author and poet. Although Maya only takes Mrs. Flowers' "lessons in living" for a short time, she carries what she has learned with her wherever she goes. Mrs. Flowers did not personally mentor Maya for a long time, but the idea of her served as a model for Maya forever.