Literary Quotations
Browse quotes by source | Browse quotes by author


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969)

If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.


The lamplight in the Store gave a soft make-believe feeling to our world which made me want to whisper and walk about on tiptoe. The odors of onions and oranges and kerosene had been mixing all night and wouldn't be disturbed until the wooded slat was removed from the door and the early morning air forced its way in with the bodies of people who had walked miles to reach the pickup place.

--Chapter 1

Uncle Willie used to sit, like a giant black Z (he had been crippled as a child), and hear us testify to the Lafayette County Training Schools' abilities. His face pulled down on the left side, as if a pulley had been attached to his lower teeth, and his left hand was only a mite bigger than Bailey's, but on the second mistake or on the third hesitation his big overgrown right hand would catch one of us behind the collar, and in the same moment would thrust the culprit toward the dull red heater, which throbbed like a devil's toothache.

--Chapter 2

I remember never believing that whites were really real.

--Chapter 4

I knew that if a person truly wanted to avoid hell and brimstone, and being roasted forever in the devil's fire, all she had to do was memorize Deuteronomy and follow its teaching, word for word.

--Chapter 6

A light shade had been pulled down between the Black community and all things white, but one could see through it enough to develop a fear-admiration-contempt for the white “things”—white folks’ cars and white glistening houses and their children and their women. But above all, their wealth that allowed them to waste was the most enviable.

--Chapter 8

I rather you have a good mind than a cute behind.

--Chapter 10

There was an army of adults, whose motives and movements I just couldn't understand and who made no effort to understand mine.

--Chapter 11

Language is man's way of communicating with his fellow man and it is language alone that separates him from the lower animals.

--Chapter 15

Bailey was talking so fast he forgot to stutter, he forgot to scratch his head and clean his fingernails with his teeth. He was away in a mystery, locked in the enigma that young Southern Black boys start to unravel, start to try to unravel, from seven years old to death. The humorless puzzle of inequality and hate.

--Chapter 25

All knowledge is spendable currency, depending on the market.

--Chapter 28

How maddening it was to have been born in a cotton field with aspirations of grandeur.

--Chapter 30

At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.

--Chapter 31

The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.

--Chapter 34

Can't do is like Don't Care. Neither of them have a home.

--Chapter 34

See, you don't have to think about doing the right thing. If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.

--Chapter 36

More Maya Angelou Quotes