I Know Why the Caged Bird sings is a story about the life of Marguerite Johnson, also referred to as Maya. Growing up with her brother, Bailey, they were sent away to the foreign area of Stamps to live with their grandmother, who they called "Momma"ÃÂ, when they're parents divorced. Stamps was a poor black town with only a few whites. Momma taught them the belief in God and the importance of hard work.
When Maya was eight years old, she and Bailey were sent to St. Louis to live with their birth mother, Vivian, and her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman raped Maya, but told her not to tell anyone, or he would kill Bailey. Maya's mother soon found out and Maya confessed Freeman had Mr. raped her. Soon after, Mr. Freeman was found dead. The rape caused Maya to become silent and afraid to open up to people.
Bailey, whom she shared everything with, was soon her stranger. Maya and Bailey were returned back to Stamps to live with Momma.
After living with Momma for a while, Maya was sent to live with Vivian in San Francisco. She became more open to people while living there. She met her father's girlfriend, Dolores, whom she despised with a passion. When the hostility between Dolores and Angelou reached the breaking point, Angelou chose to spend the last month of her summer vacation living with a group of homeless teens in a junkyard. She stayed there for a while, but returned back to live with her mother.
Maya, angry at society at not accepting her as a woman, chose to sleep with one of the best looking boys in town. She became pregnant, but hid it from her parents by wearing baggy clothes. She gave birth to the baby at age sixteen.