Throughout her life, Marguerite experiences many different situations and people that all contribute to the way she grows up and the person she becomes. Despite some of her tragic circumstances, she learns a lot growing up, mainly because of the African-American women in her life who teach her all different life lessons. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Marguerite gets to absorb teachings from her mother (Vivian), Mrs. Bertha Flowers, and her grandmother (Momma). These women allow Marguerite to learn and grow as an African-American female, all while paving her own way.
Marguerite and her brother, Bailey, are sent to live with their grandmother at three and four, so she had little experience with her mother, Vivian, as a young girl. One of her first memorable encounters with her mother happens when Marguerite and Bailey receive Christmas gifts from their parents. However, up until this point, Marguerite had essentially just thought of her parents as being dead. (Angelou, 52) Later, Marguerite goes back to St. Louis to live with her mother. She is astonished by Vivian’s beauty, as Marguerite does not feel she is beautiful. Despite her previous lack of care for the children, Vivian, according to Marguerite, “was competent in providing for us.” Marguerite also says that while her mother was a nurse, she never worked while the children lived for her and “The straight eight-to-five world simply didn’t have enough glamor for her” so she earned extra money by gambling. (70) Despite eventually moving back in with Momma, the time that she spent with Vivian proved to teach her many things. Though she was not a particularly doting parent, she was incredibly strong. She took care of Marguerite throughout her troubling time with Mr. Freeman, even kicking him out, though she did not fully know what was happening with her abusive boyfriend. Marguerite’s mother, while not the greatest role model for her children, did all she could to take care of them, and allowed Marguerite to see the life in a big and bustling city with a beautiful, strong, independent, and free-spirited woman. While she did learn a lot from Vivian, Marguerite mainly gets a new idea of what an African-American woman can be. It seems that these characteristics of her mother are part of what allowed the “real” Marguerite, Maya Angelou, to become a performer, as she worked as an actress and singer for a while. Her ability to put herself out there for entertainment and enjoyment, are probably attributed to her mother, in part.
Once returning to Stamps, silent and traumatized, Marguerite meets Mrs. Bertha Flowers. Marguerite discusses her as “the aristocrat of Black Stamps.” (93) Marguerite looks up to Mrs. Flowers in many ways. She is beautiful and sophisticated and according to Marguerite, Mrs. Flowers “has remained throughout my life the measure of what a human being can be.” (94) Mrs. Flowers took Marguerite under her wing and into her home. She shared...