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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 June 9, 2023.


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Part 1: Childhood, Chapter 4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 1: Childhood, Chapter 4 of Anne Moody's memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi.

Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 1, Chapter 4 : Childhood | Summary



After moving into the new house, Mama and Essie go to buy furniture. Essie is now almost 12. She picks out a bed similar to one she's seen in a white home. Mama tells her not to want what white people have, saying "Miss Claiborne and Miss Ola done ruined you." With new mahogany furniture, the family is almost "middle-class." James comes to live with them.

Despite the family's improved finances, tension remains. Raymond's family won't befriend Mama. She and Raymond pressure Essie to do better in school than Raymond's young sisters Darlene and Cherie, who are "yellow" and feel superior. Since Adline and Junior struggle in class, Essie knows the pressure's on her to succeed. She becomes competitive with Darlene and joins the school basketball team.

Mama delivers the new baby in a dramatic birth Essie compares to "killing a hog at night." Aunt Caroline, an old woman Essie doesn't recognize, arrives to help with the birth. Essie learns Aunt Caroline delivered her, too. The baby girl is named Virginia and called Jennie Ann. Essie notices the "calm, peaceful look" on Mama's face and wishes her mother could stay happy. But she knows Mama hasn't really been content since the family moved. Raymond still hasn't married Mama, and his family hasn't accepted her.

Miss Pearl, Raymond's mother, comes to the house to see the children and ignores Mama. After she leaves, Mama begins to cry. Essie realizes "as long as Raymond's people could make her cry, they would."

For Christmas Mrs. Claiborne gives Essie a bonus. Essie thinks about how the Claibornes treat her like a daughter, while Raymond's family hates Mama because of her dark skin, even though "they were Negroes and we were also Negroes." Christmas is the nicest one Essie's ever had.


Again Essie wants access to the spaces and objects she admires. Again she's reminded by Mama to know her place in the established power structure. Is Mama hampering Essie's dreams and possibilities, or is she trying to protect Essie and the family from pain and hurt? The question recurs several times in the book, especially when Mama urges Essie/Anne to stop her civil rights work.

The uncertainty of her youth means Essie searches for ways to survive and thrive. Essie's instinct to buy the fancy bed shows an appreciation for material goods, cultivated through deprivation. She sees how high-quality belongings can provide their owners with a sense of dignity and accomplishment. The Moodys feel better about themselves when they have furniture and nice wallpaper. Sports, especially basketball, provide a way for Essie to grow in confidence and skill. In sports she can be aggressive and competitive in a way she often can't in life. She learns to meet and exceed high expectations on the court.

But she's still a product of her homelife. Fear, unfamiliarity, and violent imagery surround the home-birth scene, and images of fire return. After Jennie Ann's birth Essie gets her first true insight into Mama's mental state and the burdens Mama will always carry. From the way Raymond's family treats Mama, Essie learns how oppressed people will often attack one another and compete for limited resources. When she works in the civil rights movement she learns white people deliberately try to turn black activists against one another, knowing this distrust could erode the movement.

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