Study Guide

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Love

By Maya Angelou


In later years I asked her if she loved me and she brushed me off with: "God is love. Just worry about whether you're being a good girl, then He will love you." (9.6)

Of course Momma loves Maya… right? Why can't she bring herself to say it? Is God's love just the most important thing to her? Or is she afraid of human connection?

He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn't ever let me go. I felt at home. (11.15)

It's not uncommon for victims of sexual abuse to feel loved by their abuser. Especially for a child like Maya, who doesn't know real love, it's tough for her to distinguish.

I was liked, and what a difference it made. I was respected not as Mrs. Henderson's grandchild or Bailey's sister but for just being Marguerite Johnson. (15.56)

Not Ritie, not Sister, and not even Maya. Mrs. Flowers calls our girl by her full name, Marguerite. She's the first person to really see Maya as an individual.

In daring to challenge the unknown with me, she became my first friend. (20.24)

How oddly sweet. How does Maya's friendship with Louise change her? Is she more able to give (and receive) love because of this first friend?

I think she was Bailey's first love outside the family. For him, she was the mother who let him get as close as he dreamed, the sister who wasn't moody and withdrawing, and teary and tender-hearted. (20.24)

Love is so absent from Bailey's life that he looks for all kinds of love—romantic, parental, sisterly—in one person. And spoiler alert: she leaves town.

I had been left out of their power/love struggles. (33.11)

Wait, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Is love always associated with power in Caged Bird? Does Maya want the whole kit and caboodle, or just the mushy, sweet parts of love?

During this period of strain Mother and I began our first steps on the long path toward mutual adult admiration. (34.30)

Okay, so they'll probably never get matching manicures, but as Maya grows up, the bond between her and her mom grows stronger. (Being an adult will do that to you.) How do you think Maya's relationship with Vivian will affect what kind of mother she is?

What happened to the moonlight-on-the-prairie feeling? (35.73)

Maya might have imagined a feather bed with a fresh fruit plate and a bottle of champagne with tender kisses, but her first time didn't quite hit the mark. We'll never forget Maya's experience with sexual abuse, but this comment allows us see her as a typical teenage girl with unrealistic expectations about sex.