Study Guide

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Religion

By Maya Angelou


"Our Father, thank you for letting me see this New Day. Thank you that you didn't allow the bed I lay on last night to be my cooling board, nor my blanket my winding sheet. Guide my feet this day along the straight and narrow, and help me to put a bridle on my tongue. Bless this house, and everybody in it. Thank you, in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen." (1.11)

Momma is pretty serious about this religion thing. She prays, she goes to church, she memorizes Bible verses—the whole shebang. But does she instill these values into Maya?

It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, N****es and the crippled was still in effect. (3.5)

Religion can definitely be a comfort for the disadvantaged. Even if no one else does, God loves people who are not white, able-bodied adults.

Of all the needs (there are none imaginary) a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God. My pretty Black brother was my Kingdom Come. (4.18)

So Maya has a religion all her own. What is the God that Maya describes here? Does it have anything to do with Momma's religion?

"Thou shall not be dirty" and "Thou shall not be impudent" were the two commandments of Grandmother Henderson upon which hung our total salvation. (5.1)

This seems to be a pretty tough jab at Momma's take on religion. Young Maya definitely doesn't take Christianity seriously. Have things changed for adult Maya?

The minister took advantage of already being on the floor and asked in a choky little voice if the church would kneel with him to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. He said we had been visited with a mighty spirit, and let the whole church say Amen. (6.26)

We know how this ends: more comic relief, and more peeing in church. We're starting to notice a trend here.

Maybe the policeman was coming to put me in jail because I had sworn on the Bible that everything I said would be the truth, the whole truth, so help me, God. The man in our living room was taller than the sky and whiter than my image of God. (13.20)

This is some pretty deep thinking for an eight-year-old. Is it possible for someone so young to understand religion?

I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God's will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed. (18.4)

Why is religion more important for the disadvantaged? As Maya moves up on the socioeconomic scale, what happens to religion in her life?

The mean whitefolks was going to get their comeuppance. Wasn't that what the minister said, and wasn't he quoting from the words of God Himself? They had been refreshed with the hope of revenge and the promise of justice. (18.55)

Justice seems like a kosher religious concept. But comeuppance? Revenge?

The Angel of the candy counter had found me out at last, and was exacting excruciating penance for all the stolen Milky Ways, Mounds, Mr. Goodbars and Hersheys with Almonds. (24.1)

You didn't think God would see that one, did you?