Summary and Analysis
As Maya approaches maturity, she becomes more aggressive, more willing to take risks to establish her autonomy. The set-to with Daddy Bailey's live-in girlfriend is one of the liberating elements of the final chapters of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya's large, awkward frame and lack of refinement contrasts with Dolores's arrogance, daintiness, and fastidiousness; clearly, Maya is destined for trouble in the confines of the trailer that houses the three of them. She competes both consciously and unconsciously for Daddy Bailey's approval, pleasing him with her ability to converse in Spanish and her flexibility and graciousness on the doomed trip to the outskirts of Ensenada. Bailey, aware of the battle for his attention, laughs in self-congratulory amusement. Dolores, whom Maya characterizes as "mean and petty and full of pretense," is oblivious to the sadistic delight Bailey takes in pitting female against female.
Suspecting shady motives after Bailey deserts her temporarily at the cantina, Maya, unaware that he is off getting drunk with a local woman, fears that she has been bartered as a bride to a border guard. Her frank appraisal of Bailey's egocentric character and dubious principles suggests a destructive inadequacy in the man who should be a major figure in her life. As her mind toys with her father's affront to his only daughter, she bursts into hysterical tears, which Angelou characterizes with serio-comic precision. Ridiculing her reputation for brilliance, Maya gamely sets out to drive the fifty descending miles to Calexico.
Following the contretemps with local police, Maya faces greater uproar after Bailey's self-absorption and insensitivity goads Dolores to desperation. His hypocrisy in concealing the fracas to protect his position as "a Mason, an Elk, a naval dietician and the first Negro deacon in the Lutheran church" indicates that he is more concerned with social appearances than with Maya's discomfort, terror, and possible complications from the stab wound. In contrast, Maya, remembering the Baxter family's quick dispatching of Mr. Freeman and fearful of a second eruption of family vengeance, chooses to keep her wound secret from Vivian and to trust native survival skills by running away. Her choice, which is appropriate to teen logic, relieves her tensions and accords some temporary autonomy, which her wounded pride sorely needs.
Bolstered by a lack of parental restraint, like a "loose kite in a gentle wind floating with only my will for an anchor," Maya sleeps away her fears in a junked car and awakens to a multiracial group of other teenage runaways as independent as she. Together, she and the gang enjoy the illusion of total freedom while cadging free baths at one gang member's house. Crediting the experience with initiating her "into the brotherhood of man," she gains new insight into tolerance and trust. Back in San Francisco, believing that she has discredited Dolores' assertion that her mother is a whore, Maya — her displacement at an end — sinks into the satisfaction of costly gains achieved on the way to womanhood.
Jane Withers Atlanta-born actress (1927- ) who, from age six, has starred in movies, television, and commercials.
Donald O'Connor musical comedy actor and dancer of stage, screen, and television (1925- ) who starred in Singin' in the Rain, No Business like Show Business, and The Donald O'Connor Show.
pedal pushers pants extending to mid-calf length.
coq au vin chicken in wine sauce.
prime ribs au jus beef ribs served with natural juices.
cotelette Milanese chicken breast cutlets dredged in egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and crumbs and braised in butter.
pollo en salsa verde chicken in green chili sauce.
enchilada con carne a tortilla wrapped around a meat filling and topped with chili sauce.
mercados Mexican grocery stores.
Pancho Villa colorful Mexican bandit (1878-1923).
Tyrone Power dark-eyed romantic lead (1913-58) who starred in The Razor's Edge, Captain from Castile, and Jesse James.
Dolores Del Rio fine-featured Mexican actress (1905-83) who starred in Madame DuBarry and Cheyenne Autumn.
Akim Tamiroff eccentric-looking Russian character actor (1899-1972) who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Pablo in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Katina Paxinou coarse-featured Greek-born film actress (1900-73) who won an Oscar for her role as Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
esposita little bride.
"Cómo está usted?" How are you?
Zapata Mexican revolutionary (1878-1919).
la niña little girl.
"Donde está mi padre?" Where is my father?
"Donde vas?" Where are you going?
señoritas young, unmarried women.
Cisco Kid dashing Mexican "Robin Hood" character in Western movies, radio, an early television series, and a 1950s comic strip.
the Fates characters in Greek mythology who determined the course of human life.
"Si, si" Yes, yes.
St. Vitus Dance a chronic spastic twitch of face and limbs.
risco de Mexico Mexican cliff, or crag.
policiás police officers.
"Quién es?" Who is this?
"Mi padre" My father.
Pobrecita Poor little thing.
"Qué tiene? Qué pasa? Qué quiere?" What do you have? What's happening? What do you want?
"The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on . . ." a verse from Omar Khayyám's Rubaiyat which implies that fate is impervious to human wishes.
Lester Young innovative tenor saxophonist (1909-59) for Count Basie.
Brobdingnag a country in Swift's Gulliver's Travels that is inhabited by giants twelve times the size of humans.
ad hoc makeshift; improvised.
turned to got busy (in this case, preparing food).