I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Chapters 12-14
On a late spring afternoon in Chapter Twelve, Bailey has left the house and Mr. Freeman asks Maya to fetch some milk. When she returns, he tells her to come to him. His penis is out of his trousers and he grabs her and pulls her to him. He threatens to kill her and Bailey if she screams and he then rapes her. She passes out and comes round as he is washing her legs and saying he did not mean to hurt her. He asks her not to talk about what has happened.
He then tells her to go to the library, but she is in such agony she cannot sit down. She comes home and goes to bed and hides her blood-stained underwear under the mattress. She does not tell anyone what has happened and her mother presumes she has measles. Mr. Freeman makes veiled threats to her again when she is alone.
Later, Maya hears Mother and Mr. Freeman arguing. The next day, Mother tells her he has left and she wonders if she can tell her mother now, but the ‘terrible pain assured me that I couldn’t’ and she does not know if Bailey is out of danger yet. Mother informs her that she needs to be bathed and the bed needs changing. Maya fights against this, but Mother picks her up and Bailey pulls off the sheets. In so doing, he dislodges her hidden underwear and they fall at Mother’s feet.
She is in the hospital in Chapter Thirteen and Bailey tells her that she must let them know who did this to her so that the man will not hurt another girl. She says she cannot as the man will kill him. When Bailey says he will not let him do this, she believes him and says it was Mr. Freeman. Bailey cries and then tells Grandmother Baxter, and Mr. Freeman is arrested.
The narrative shifts to court and Maya is sitting with her family. She relates how ‘poor Mr. Freeman twisted in his chair to look empty threats over to me’. When giving evidence, his lawyer questions Maya and asks what Mr. Freeman was wearing (at the time of the rape). She says she does not know and he snickers at this and then enquires, ‘Do you know if you were raped?’
When asked if Mr. Freeman has touched her before, she does not know what to say. She is convinced that she has helped Mr. Freeman do what he did, but does not want to lie in court. She thinks she cannot say yes; her uncles would kill her, Grandmother Baxter would stop speaking to her and the people in the court would stone her ‘as they had stoned the harlot in the Bible’. She also thinks Mother would be disappointed in her and she has kept a secret from Bailey. She is asked the question again and she says, ‘no’. She cries and screams, ‘Ole, mean dirty thing, you. Dirty old thing’ and her lawyer takes her off the stand to be with her mother. Mr. Freeman is given a year and one day in prison, but ‘his lawyer (or someone)’ gets him released that afternoon.
At their grandmother’s home, Maya and Bailey are playing Monopoly when a white policeman comes to inform them that Mr. Freeman has been found dead on the lot behind the slaughterhouse. It looks as though he has been kicked to death. On hearing the news, Grandmother Baxter says, ‘poor man’ and asks who did it. She is told it looks as though he was dropped there.
The policeman leaves and Maya thinks, ‘a man was dead because I lied’. She feels like she has forfeited her place in heaven. She also thinks of herself as evil and if she clamps her mouth shut, she will not flood the world and ‘all the innocent people’. Their grandmother says to them that they ‘didn’t hear a thing’ and does not want to hear the situation or that evil man’s name mentioned in her house again. Bailey is frightened too and Maya realizes that although he loves her, he cannot help her. She decides the only action she can take is to stop talking to people other than Bailey. She knows she loves him so much that she would never hurt him, ‘but if I talked to anyone else that person might die too’.
In the first weeks of silence, her family accept her behavior as being attributable to her ordeal. When the doctor tells her she is healed, however, and she carries on refusing to be the child they knew previously she is called impudent and sullen. For a while she is punished, and then she is thrashed by any relative who feels offended.
This chapter ends with Maya and Bailey on the train back to Stamps and this time she has to console him. She has never known since if Momma sent for them or if the St Louis family ‘just got fed up with my grim presence’.
Maya welcomes the ‘barrenness’ of Stamps, in Chapter Fourteen, after the noise and activity of St Louis: ‘Nothing more could happen, for in Stamps nothing happened.’ People come to the Store to ask about the North and Bailey answers the questions with exaggerated truths and lies. Maya is still not speaking and sounds and color come to her dully.
After the murder of Mr. Freeman, Maya turns to silence to avoid condemning others to death. The point of view of the abused child is used to poignant effect as she decides to stop speaking to avoid the same fate befalling others. Her sense of guilt and references to ‘poor Mr. Freeman’ are moving as she becomes frozen by fear and self-hatred. In addition, Grandmother Baxter’s decision that this will not be spoken of again appears to justify Maya’s silence and the family’s inability to see that she has not yet healed (even though the doctor says otherwise) is reflected in the punishments she receives for not being the girl she once was.