I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou Summary and Analysis Chapter 16

From the gentle lessons of Mrs. Flowers, Maya, like a dusky imitation of a white debutante, advances to the kitchen of Mrs. Viola Cullinan, where she learns the mysteries of china and silver. Pointedly, amid the proper and prestigious array of dishes and glassware, the drinking vessels of Miss Glory and Maya sit "on a separate shelf from the others," mute testimony to the racism that lurks as a silent third party between kitchen servant and lady of the house. Ironically, Maya wastes tender sympathies on her barren employer, who appears unaware of the handsome offspring of the faceless Mr. Cullinan and his black mistress. The explosive comedy of "Mary's" departure from her white mistress' service is a welcome comic relief from the tension of earlier chapters.

The obvious difference in point of view between Maya and Miss Glory presages the coming civil rights struggle, when black workers rebelled against Uncle Tom stereotypes and refused to act the part of the compliant, well-schooled darky. In the line of fire when Mrs. Cullinan launches a poorly aimed salvo of jagged crockery pieces, Miss Glory, suitably punished for her old-fashioned subservience, catches a chunk over the ear. In a more pronounced example of poetic justice, as though assaulting her predecessors for their weak-kneed toadying, the speaker describes young Maya as walking out on the melee and leaving the door open to broadcast the plaintive dismay of her employer.

Glossary

married beneath her married below her social station.

Cheshire cat's smile continuing the image from Alice in Wonderland, a reference to the cat which disembodies itself, leaving only its smile behind.

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