Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Course Hero. "Coming of Age in Mississippi Study Guide." October 16, 2017. Accessed December 14, 2017. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Coming-of-Age-in-Mississippi/.

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Course Hero, "Coming of Age in Mississippi Study Guide," October 16, 2017, accessed December 14, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Coming-of-Age-in-Mississippi/.

Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 1, Chapter 2 : Childhood | Summary

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Summary

After school ends for the summer, Essie, Adline, and Junior spend their days sitting on the porch or playing in the woods while Mama works. Their Uncle Ed takes the children on a surprise visit to his home. There Essie discovers Ed's younger brothers, Sam and Walter, are white. She's even more puzzled by the equal treatment her siblings and the white boys receive from Ed and his sister Alberta. When Essie asks her mother about Sam and Walter, Mama gets angry and avoids Essie's questions.

Mama gives birth to another boy, James. His father is a soldier. The family is visited by the soldier's mother, Miss Pearl, who resembles and acts like "a slightly tanned white woman." Miss Pearl takes James, saying Mama can't afford to raise him.

The family moves to a larger house in the town of Centreville. Essie, now six, is in charge of watching Adline and Junior. After Junior accidentally sets the house on fire, the family moves again. Mama is now doing domestic work for a white family, and she brings delicious leftovers home. Essie wishes Mama had a nice kitchen of her own.

Raymond, the soldier and James's father, begins spending more time with the family. Mama visits and cares for James. Raymond's family dislikes Mama because of her dark skin and three children, and wants Raymond to marry another woman he's seeing.

Analysis

Essie is growing in self-awareness. The triumph of killing her own food is similar to the accomplishment she'll feel when she first earns money to buy food. She's taking care of herself and her family, and learning tricks for survival.

Essie's also discovering how she relates to the people around her, and where she falls in social hierarchies. Much of her early understanding of status and group identity is shaped by race. She notices her mother is nervous and deferential around light-skinned Florence and Miss Pearl, even accepting their authority to raise her baby. She knows "white folks ate different from us" and their food and facilities are better. Any opportunities her family gets, and any they're denied, seem connected to race. She's beginning to notice how class intertwines with race. The lighter your skin is, the wealthier you're likely to be.

The stark divides between black and white communities in Mississippi put interracial couples and their children in a strange position. Until the Loving v. Virginia court case of 1967, there were still laws in America banning interracial marriage. When Essie meets Sam and Walter, she is surprised they treat her like an equal, and even more surprised they are in the family. Though race is clearly a defining factor in her life, young Essie doesn't yet know what it means.

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