Summary and Analysis Chapter 17


Enriched by warm, fuzzy memories of Saturdays, worm gardens, a chinaberry tree, shining shoes with a biscuit, and ten cents' allowance, Chapter 17 moves optimistically away from Maya's earlier sufferings. Then, without warning, the plot yo-yos back to the dark side when Bailey stays late at a movie to see a white actress — Kay Francis, whom Bailey describes as being the image of "Mother Dear." His unexplained absence leaves the family on the raw rim of anxiety. Momma's overreaction to his tardiness stems from the fear of the "hanging noose," the capricious racist violence that traditionally snatches away "sons, grandsons and nephews."

Willing to undergo humiliation and punishment to retain his secret, weeks later, Bailey shares the entrancing screen star with Maya when the next Kay Francis movie comes to Stamps. Angelou uses the opportunity to skewer movieland's black caricatures and the variations in response from white cinema-goers and their black counterparts, relegated to the colored balcony. Ending the episode with an unexpected burst of rebellion from Bailey, she divulges that a year later, Bailey hops a train and exits her life in a brief attempt to locate his "Mother Dear." Her droll side note pictures him stranded in Baton Rouge, nowhere near his beloved parent.


mumbledypeg a game requiring participants to flip a knife so that the blade sticks in the ground, often between the toes of the player.

tithe a percentage of income (usually ten percent) donated regularly to the church in obedience to the specific command of Malachi 3:10: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse that there might be meat in mine house."

Rye-al-toh A standard name for movie theaters is Rialto, taken from a highly ornate bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.

Bluebeards killers like the protagonist of Charles Perrault's French folktales, written in 1697.

Rippers slashers of women, like the self-named Jack the Ripper, the unidentified mangler of seven London prostitutes from August 7 to November 10, 1888.