Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 1, Chapter 9 : Childhood | Summary

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Summary

After Homecoming, Essie changes her name. Mama requests new copies of the children's birth certificates for their school records, and the name "Annie Mae Moody" is printed on Essie's certificate. Essie prefers the name Annie and convinces Mama to let her keep it. She's still called Essie Mae at home and "Moody" by her classmates.

She and Darlene, the two best students, compete before graduation for the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian. Darlene has better grades than Anne, but they're shocked when another girl beats them both.

Mama finally convinces Raymond to look for a job in California. Black men have a hard time finding work, and Raymond returns unsuccessfully. The Moody family seems "doomed to poverty and more unhappiness." To make matters worse, Mama is pregnant again, and Linda Jean's family is moving, so Anne faces losing her own job. Mrs. Burke, Linda Jean's intimidating mother, offers Anne work. She knows she has to take it, to get her family "that plate of dry beans if nothing else."

Anne finds she likes the other members of Mrs. Burke's family, including Wayne, a boy her own age. When Mrs. Burke makes unreasonable demands, Anne stands her ground and does things her own way. For instance, Anne knocks at the front door for entrance instead of using the back door. She considers working for the mean Mrs. Burke "a challenge"—the first of many.

Analysis

Essie, now Anne, makes her name change on the cusp of adulthood. A new name means a new identity, and she experiences both outward and inward change. She is creating herself and shaping her future. In school she feels like a "real queen"—a person with power. The new name begins her process of outgrowing her childhood home.

Through Raymond's trip to California, the reader gets their first glimpse of the world outside the South and sees it is not much more hospitable to black people than Mississippi is. Los Angeles may not be ruled by Jim Crow, but black people still struggle to prove their worth. With no chance at well-paid employment, Raymond and the Moodys have no chance at self-sufficiency. The cycle of economic oppression means they face a grim and uncertain future. This chapter marks the end of Mama's youthful hopes and the beginning of Anne's entrance into the realities of adulthood. Anne's already bringing in essential income for the family, and more of this responsibility falls on her shoulders when Raymond can't find work.

But Anne's equal to the task. Her insistence on doing things her own way, her technical skill at her job, and her calm persistence in the face of unreasonable demands all earn her respect. She gives herself rights and dignity when no one else will, and demands better treatment from Mrs. Burke. These skills will inform Anne's work in the civil rights movement, as she tells other activists they have to create the change they've been waiting for. Anne's also quickly discovering how deep-seated white people's power is and how unwilling those like Mrs. Burke are to give it up.

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