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Free Study Guide-I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou-Summary
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Chapter 21

Summary

Bailey is not quite eleven when he is introduced to the adult world of sex. He develops a game called "Momma and Poppa" in which Maya plays "Baby." She keeps watch while he takes a girl into his makeshift tent. The girls pull up their dresses, and Bailey wiggles his hips in pretense of sex. Six months into the game, Bailey meets Joyce, an orphaned country girl who has come to live with her aunt in Stamps. Joyce is fifteen, and Bailey admires her from a distance.

After some time, Bailey takes Joyce into the tent. Maya, stationed outside the tent, hears Joyce asking the astonished Bailey to take his pants off and "do it" for real. Maya warns Bailey and threatens Joyce, remembering her own terrible sexual encounter, but Joyce sends her away. Later Bailey tells Maya that Joyce has underarm hair and hair on "her thing" from "doing it" with so many boys. Bailey begins to see Joyce regularly. As their love affair progresses, Bailey’s stealing from the store increases. He gives Joyce money and food. She hangs around the store spending the money Bailey has given her.

Suddenly Joyce disappears. Maya does not notice until she sees a change in Bailey, who has become listless and uncommunicative. Joyce’s aunt comes to the store and tells them Joyce has run away with a railway porter. She left a note saying no one was good to her in Stamps, except Bailey. Maya talks to Bailey, who simply says, "She’s got somebody to do it to her all the time now." This is the last time Joyce is ever mentioned.


Notes

This chapter is Bailey’s initiation into sex and heartbreak. Curious about the opposite sex, he entices some of the girls his age to pull up their dresses for him in his makeshift ten.. Standing in front of them, he then wiggles in imitation of a sexual act. Bailey then meets Joyce, a fifteen-year-old girl who has just moved to Stamps. When he entices her into his tent, she suggests that they really have sex. Although Maya warns against it because of her miserable sexual encounter, Bailey does not listen.

Bailey soon falls head over heads in love with Joyce and steals things from Momma’s store to give to her. Then one day, Joyce suddenly disappears, leaving Bailey heartbroken. It is later learned that she has run away with the railroad porter. Although Maya is a total contrast to Joyce, the reader realizes that she could have become loose and hungry for love, just like Joyce.

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