42 pages 1 hour read

Maya Angelou

Mom & Me & Mom

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Mom & Me & Mom is a memoir by African American author Maya Angelou, originally published in 2013. The book is the seventh installment in Angelou’s series of seven autobiographies. The novel centers on her relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter. It chronicles the development of their bonding, from Vivian’s abandonment of Angelou and her brother, Bailey Jr., to Angelou’s reunion and reconciliation with her.

Angelou was an acclaimed poet, playwright, essayist, professor, and civil rights activist. Angelou also had a career as a dancer, singer, composer, actress, and film director. She received several honorary degrees, the Spingarn Medal in 1994, the National Medal of Arts in 2000, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

This guide refers to the 2013 e-book edition published by Virago Press.

Content Warning: Mom & Me & Mom references the sexual assault of a child, child abandonment, and death and depicts physical abuse of a child, domestic abuse, racism, anti-gay bias, suicidal ideation, drug addiction, and lung cancer.

Summary

Maya Angelou’s account of her relationship with her mother is divided into two parts. Part 1 follows their reunion and the first stages of their bonding. Angelou and her brother, Bailey Jr., live with their paternal grandmother in Arkansas. As a child, Angelou is traumatized by sexual abuse and remains mute for years. Angelou and Bailey move to San Francisco to reunite with their mother as teenagers. Angelou is initially restrained and cannot recognize Vivian as her mother. However, Bailey is happy to reconnect with her. Vivian is honest and open with her children, recognizing her past mistakes. She explains that she left them with their grandmother because she was not ready to be a mother. Leaving the past behind, she asserts her role as a mother. Angelou begins to appreciate her mother’s sincerity and lessons. Vivian accepts being called “Lady” instead of “mother,” showing acceptance and understanding of her daughter’s feelings. As time passes, Angelou grows closer to her mother. She also visits her father, but they do not form a relationship.

Before graduating from high school, Angelou finds a job as a car conductor with her mother’s support. Vivian instills in her daughter a feeling of power despite racial and gender oppression. Their relationship reaches a turning point when Angelou becomes a young single mother. Her mother’s acceptance and support free her from societal constraints and encourage her to embrace motherhood. Vivian is ready to shower her grandson with her love. Angelou calls her “mother” for the first time.

In Part 2, Angelou moves out of the house to raise her son alone. She struggles financially but enjoys her independence. She is abused by one of her partners and recovers with her mother’s help. Vivian emphasizes that women must learn to protect themselves. She lends Angelou money, which enables her to find a better job and spend more time with her son. Angelou eventually meets Tosh Angelos, who becomes her husband. She clashes with her mother about her decision to marry a white man, and they temporarily separate. Vivian soon realizes her mistake and returns to her daughter’s side, promising to never leave her again.

Angelou realizes she is unhappy with her marriage. Tosh expects her to be a simple housewife and follow his wishes. Vivian urges her to understand what makes her miserable. Angelou feels she is losing herself and misses dancing, her old job, friends, and faith. Her decision to divorce devastates her son. Vivian tells her that she must maintain her own identity. She praises Angelou’s strength and knows she can achieve her dreams. Gradually, Angelou starts her artistic career as a dancer and singer. Vivian encourages her to travel for work despite her hesitation to leave her son. She navigates guilt, oppression, and trauma, realizing her own inner power. Throughout her experiences, Angelou chooses to feel grateful and trust her own consciousness and willpower to navigate life’s struggles. Vivian guides her by example, actively resisting racial and gender discrimination.

Throughout her adult life, Angelou faces new struggles while pursuing a writing career with her mother’s help. She realizes being a mother means guiding with unconditional love. However, Vivian’s relationship with Bailey changes. Angelou notes that her brother loves their mother but is unable to forgive her. His childhood trauma continues to impact his life as an adult. When Vivian is sick with lung cancer, Angelou takes her home, and her spirit improves. When Angelou must leave to teach in England, Vivian encourages her despite her illness. When she returns, Vivian is in a coma. As Vivian passes away, Angelou affirms her forgiveness and knows her mother will always live in her memory. 

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