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What Is Angelou's Purpose in the Narrative "Sister Flowers"?


Maya Angelou's narrative "Sister Flowers" is a chapter in her autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Its purpose is that of revelation. It reveals not only the character of her most important mentor, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, but also the love of words and sounds this remarkable woman imparts to the young narrator -- Angelou, called Marguerite in the text. Sister Flowers is the fountainhead of Maya Angelou's poetic voice.

Best of All Peoples

The author's purpose, to reveal her poetic self in a literary interaction, intensifies as she describes her mentor. Sister Flowers is an "aristocrat" unaffected by weather, other people's reactions, racial tensions; she moves easily in all social circles and is easygoing with Marguerite's countrified mother. Sister Flowers is a paragon, not only of African Americans but also of humanity, and she resembles "women in English novels . . . [who] had two last names divided by a hyphen." She is a class act, both in fiction and real life.

The Class Act Reaches Out

The turning point of the chapter, and of the book, is when Sister Flowers asks Marguerite to her home. She begins a campaign to get the child talking in school, since "language is what separates [man] from the lower animals." Sister Flowers is not only a model of virtue and manners, but also a font of inspiration, turning Marguerite toward freedom of thought and expression. Not just a class act anymore, she is the author's own self-awareness.

The Connection to Literature

The revelation about Angelou's own literary connections takes place in Sister Flowers' home, when her surrogate Marguerite hears Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" read aloud, and is enraptured by the experience: "I heard poetry for the first time in my life." The Dickens novel, whether it was really Sister Flowers' choice or the author's invention, was a smart first read; there is no parallelism in poetry to match its opening line: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... ."

The Catalyst Revealed

The author's purpose in the "Sister Flowers" narrative is to reveal the catalyst of her own literary experience, a muse who is a social and racial template for goodness. Sister Flowers exposes Marguerite/Angelou to the sounds of poetry and sets her feet on the path toward literary expression. "She made cookies for me and read to me," says Angelou, emphasizing/underlining "me." Sister Flowers personifies artistic integrity and self-worth in reaching out to the young poet.

References
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Maya Angelou
  • A Tale of Two Cities; Charles Dickens
About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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