Summary and Analysis
The trauma of returning to her parents plunges Maya anew into the unsettled business of rape trauma and guilt. The imagery of Annie's reunion with Vivian supplies a clear delineation of proper motherhood. On the one hand, Annie is the "large, solid dark hen." Vivian, the lesser of the two mother figures, is the light-toned chick, communicating in "rapid peeps and chirps." In Oakland and out of her milieu, Annie, a stolid, unflinching figure, adjusts well to the multicultural lifestyle while remaining in Los Angeles for six months. Her going, a shattering but irrevocable announcement to her dependent grandchildren, illuminates Momma's role as primary parent, a role which ends with her return to Stamps.
Realigning family structure in their San Francisco home around Bailey, Vivian, and Daddy Clidell, thirteen-year-old Maya, like other citizens on the west coast in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, turns her attention to the threat of a Japanese invasion and to the disappearance of Japanese-Americans, who were incarcerated in internment camps, such as Manzanar in north central California, east of Lone Pine. Angelou's commentary on the complex supplanting of Orientals with Southern blacks illuminates the cultural housing patterns as well as the boost to the black image as the wartime economy increased their worth and self-esteem. She makes no apology for blatant opportunism, which allowed blacks to move into the vacated businesses of Japanese-Americans without qualms.
Like the rest of the new arrivals, Maya develops a sense of belonging to the ten-square-block area around Post Street and evolves the San Francisco personality — friendly, cool, and distinguished. However impressed she is with her newfound freedom and the offerings of a cosmopolitan city, she maintains a sense of racial separation, particularly from white insiders who think of the Southern influx, both white and black, as "raucous unsophisticated provincials." The racial incident that concludes Chapter 27 is one of the rare instances in Angelou's prose which fails to ring true, as though she tacked it on just for effect. An example of bathos, or anticlimactic sentimentality, it lessens her skillful recreation of wartime San Francisco. For good reason, she seems to distance herself from the story's origins.
In contrast to this lapse is the extended anecdote which concludes Chapter 29, the San Francisco segment of Maya's education. The exemplum or detailed story of how Red Leg and Just Black bilk a bigoted cracker, a standard version of the trickster motif common to Afro-American and Native American lore, serves a structural purpose. At the end of the narrative, Angelou attempts to rationalize why "It's all right if we do a little robbing now" to even out the balance of years of injustice. Shifting to her own ability to shuck off standard grammar for vernacular, she concludes good-naturedly, "It be's like that sometimes." The implication that she learns much about life from the underworld members brought home by Daddy Clidell figures significantly in sequels to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, particularly Gather Together in My Name.
Capistrano a city in Orange County, California, and the location of the ruins of Mission San Juan Capistrano, dedicated in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, where legend declares the swallows nest each year from March 19 to October 23.
Southern Pacific Mole a local train which passes through tunnels in Twin Peaks, two hills in central San Francisco.
restaurant cum gambling casino a combination restaurant and gambling casino.
Fillmore District the traditional black district in central San Francisco.
Nisei second-generation Japanese-American citizens, or sons and daughters of Japanese immigrants.
Axis agent a spy for the combined enemy, consisting of Germany, Italy, and Japan, the Axis powers.
Pride and Prejudice Angelou is making a pun on the title of Jane Austen's novel.
Iwo Jima a volcanic island south of Tokyo, Japan, and the site of a costly battle by American Marines in February 1945.
House Un-American Activities a committee of the U. S. House of Representatives convened to eradicate fascists, communists, or other un-American infiltrators through intimidation, public disclosure, or imprisonment.
Basil Rathbone captivating British actor (1892-1967) who starred as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and had major roles in Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Last Days of Pompeii, and A Tale of Two Cities.
Bette Davis two-time Academy Award-winning American actress (1908-89) who starred in All This and Heaven Too, Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Little Foxes, and All About Eve.
arabesque an elegant ballet pose in which one arm extends forward and the other arm or a leg extends gracefully to the rear.
post-Earthquake affair a house built after the catastrophe which struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906, leaving 700 dead and blocks of buildings collapsed, burning, or uninhabitable. Many of the replacement buildings contained architectural features which were designed to prevent future earthquake destruction, such as huge bolts and stabilizing bars.
mark the unsuspecting victim of a hoax, or con game.
C.C.C. a relief program initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 which utilized two and a half million young men for conservation and reforestation projects.
drag disparage, or denigrate.
go down on suffer a setback or defeat.
Lucullan feast lavish or extravagant entertainment, after the manner of Lucius Lucinius Lucullus (110-57 b.c.), a Roman consul and contemporary of Julius Caesar.