Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 1, Chapter 6 : Childhood | Summary

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Summary

Raymond wants financial independence as a "big-time farmer." He buys a mule and a piece of cheap land. But soon he discovers why the land was so cheap. It's difficult to plow, and full of live hand grenades left over from "the war." He brings a grenade into the house, making the family panic.

The children are sent to work with Raymond plowing his cotton fields in the summer. Raymond is angry about the sun ruining his cotton and his mule getting heatstroke. Essie, who dreads plowing, hopes for the fields to fail.

Essie has a terrifying dream the night before her first day of plowing. The day is over a hundred degrees and she nearly faints. The family celebrates afterward with a large meal. Raymond and Mama continue to pray for good crops. Essie reflects "Farming was a fever they couldn't get rid of" since they're both "hooked to the soil." But Essie doesn't want to be a farmer. She hopes her talent in school will lead to other opportunities "given half a chance," as Miss Claiborne tells her.

Analysis

The hand grenades would likely have been left over from World War II. When Essie was a young teenager, the war was still recent. The placement of the grenades on Raymond's cheap land shows how large-scale violent events affect the poor more than the rich—wealth insulates people from some of the aftereffects of war.

Land ownership and financial stability, for Raymond, are associated with manhood and self-determination. In the 1940s the sharecropping system was on its way out, but only a few black Mississippi farmers had been able to build successful farms on their own. Raymond and Mama know farming is a gamble. They'll only have access to the least fertile land, and they'll have to work the hardest.

Essie doesn't find solace in nature and farming the way her parents do. Her dream shows more images of fire and massive destruction. Dead bodies surround her. This image will be echoed in a horrific burning she witnesses in Centreville. Her fear of "the witch" and "evil" in the hog meat—part superstition, part childish imagination—foreshadows the real human evil she'll see later on.

But she sees what attracts Mama and Raymond to the land. The family finds happiness eating together, sharing abundance rather than scarcity. Growing her own food feels like an accomplishment. Still, farming is precarious. Living according to the whims of nature means, as Essie mentions in the last paragraph, the family might starve to death if the cotton crops fail. She wants to have more control over her own destiny.

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