Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-23


In a respite from the more serious themes of the autobiography, Angelou's reminiscences about early adolescence, when forging friendships, receiving love notes, exchanging valentines, sizing up a male admirer, and completing eighth grade take precedence over her concern for equality and self-determination for the black race. A cameo of Americana at the end of the 1930s, Angelou's picture of women frying fish and arranging barbecued chickens and spareribs, baked ham, and homemade pickles and cakes on picnic tables, children playing ring games, Bailey and Maya lugging watermelons into the Coca-Cola box and filling an iron washpot with ice, and gospel singers warming up for a performance supplies the African-American counterpart of a Norman Rockwell print or an oil painting of a neighborhood outing by Grandma Moses. Freed from the devastating emotional turmoil of earlier chapters, Maya, while guarding the gnawing secret of rape by Mr. Freeman, finds time to gaze at clouds and share intimate girl talk with her contemporary, Louise Kendricks.

No less evocative of Southern culture of the early 1940s, Maya's eighth-grade graduation from the no-frills Lafayette County Training School, recounted in nostalgic, bittersweet glimpses, highlights a processional through "a few shady tall persimmon trees," gifts of money, handkerchiefs, a book of Edgar Allan Poe's works, a new dress, and a Mickey Mouse watch from friends and relatives, a breakfast worthy of Sunday morning, and, for a few fellow students, ready-made outfits from Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward or makeovers of hand-me-downs for those who cannot afford new clothes. The second singing of the black national anthem, a traditional rallying song since its publication in 1900, negates the denigrating oration of the supercilious Mr. Edward Donleavy and revives Maya from a temporary letdown. For the first time, she internalizes the familiar words and realizes that "Black known and unknown poets" (including "preachers, musicians and blues singers") have had a significant role in uplifting African-Americans.


Acka Backa, Sody Cracka a typical jump rope rhyme, similar to "Rich man, poor man" and Angelou's mimetic poem "Harlem Hopscotch."

Elks a men's benevolent, ritualist, and fraternal order which began in 1868.

Eastern Star a fraternal order, founded in 1876, composed of Master Masons and female relatives and to service, fellowship, and civic responsibilities.

Masons a men's charitable service organization, founded in 1797.

Knights of Columbus a fraternal organization, founded in 1882 and limited to Catholic males.

Daughters of Pythias a women's auxiliary of the Knights of Pythias, founded in 1864 as a charitable and fraternal order.

chow-chow a piquant or hot pickled relish made from a variety of garden vegetables, particularly cucumber, cabbage, carrot, pepper, and onion, and served with blander foods, such as pinto, lima, or navy beans.

viewing gauze a layer of opaque cloth placed over the face of a corpse before public viewing, often to conceal deterioration or deep wounds.

Captain Marvel a comic book character created by Carl Burgos and Bill Everett and first appearing in print in November 1939.

teenincy Southern dialect for very small.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. . . . Blessed be the name of the Lord Job 1:21, a stoic verse often cited at funerals and graveside rites.

my brother was far away on a raft on the Mississippi that is, Bailey was immersed in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

hants haunts, or ghosts.

juju magic resulting from use of a charm or amulet.

jacks a coordination game requiring the player to bounce a ball and toss and pick up a series of six-pointed metal game pieces.

Jordan a river in Palestine where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. In Christian hymnology, "crossing the Jordan" symbolizes the soul's passage into heaven.

thou art my good and faithful servant with whom I am well pleased an approximation of Jesus' words in the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:21.

I hungered a random summary of Matthew 25: 35-40.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust from the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer.

cyclopean eye In Greek mythology, the cyclopes were a race of one-eyed giants.

Peace, be still Jesus' command to the sea, Mark 5:39.

Montgomery Ward a department store chain that offered mail order service from large catalogues that were sent to the public.

piqué a sturdy ribbed fabric.

Let your light so shine part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:16.

backsliders a common fundamentalist pejorative for people who were once Christian, but who gradually return to faithlessness or immorality.

Mickey Mouse Walt Disney's star of animated cartoons, who debuted in 1928.

Fisk a university founded in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1866, and famous for such noteworthy graduates as writer W. E. B. Du Bois and poet Nikki Giovanni.

Owens Jesse Owens, son of an Alabama sharecropper, triumphed in track and field at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin against a background of Nazi racism, which favored the blue-eyed blonds of the Aryan race.

Gabriel Prosser leader of a slave revolt in 1800 in Richmond, Virginia.

Nat Turner leader of a slave revolt on August 21, 1831, which ended with the deaths of sixty white victims and the execution of Turner and sixteen other insurrectionists.

Amazon one of a race of female warriors mentioned in Homer's Iliad.