Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 2, Chapter 11 : High School | Summary

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Summary

Anne begins to "hate people" when she is 15 years old. She hates the murderous Southern whites, but she hates the Negroes even more for not standing up for themselves. Negro men, especially, she considers "cowards" for treating white men with servile respect.

Mrs. Burke's guild meetings increase, and soon most white people in Centreville join "the Guild." White women begin accusing their young black maids of seducing their husbands. In fact "just about every white man in Centreville had a Negro lover." The deputy sheriff Fox is caught with his young employee Bess, though only Bess's reputation is ruined.

The Guild also gossips about black men seducing white women. Even though this type of affair is "almost impossible," black men still fear the gossip's consequences after Till's death. Anne's classmate Jerry is attacked and beaten by white men.

Then an even more shocking crime happens. The home of the Taplin family is burned down with the family still inside. The black spectators to the crime scene look hopeless. Anne is still haunted by "those screams, those faces, that smoke." She's traumatized passing the house on her way home from school. As Centreville discusses the Taplin burning, they learn the Taplins' neighbor, Mr. Banks, "a high yellow mulatto man," was having an affair with a white woman.

Anne becomes determined to leave Centreville. She asks her Uncle Ed if she can stay with him in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the summer.

Analysis

Anne's worldview expands as she grows. The larger world surrounding the Moodys comes into focus. The story picks up its pace, gathering momentum as the dangers increase.

Anne's a nuanced observer. She finds her fellow black Southerners just as guilty as white people are. When black people accept injustice and hate, Anne feels, they perpetuate their own oppression. When they act subservient to white people, they reinforce the idea Jim Crow laws are acceptable. The older Anne gets the more she learns black Southerners often perform rituals of respect in order to survive, and suffer permanent consequences if they speak up for themselves. But the alternative, she thinks, is no kind of life to live.

Moody refers to several black people, particularly black authority figures, as "Uncle Toms" or "Toms" in the book. The term comes from Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, where the character of Uncle Tom is a black slave. It refers to a black person who's eager to win white approval, and who cooperates with white authorities at the expense of fellow black people. Anne is wary of "Uncle Toms" and sees them as devious traitors who endanger members of the black community. She comes to observe how racism extends across gender lines. White men can take advantage of their young black maids. Because of the power imbalance between employers and employees, older men and younger women, and white and black Mississippians, the maids may have trouble resisting an employer's advances. In white Mississippi's imagination, however, it's the man who's in danger. The stereotype of the black woman as an overtly sexual seductress leads to the women being accused, instead of the "loyal and obedient husband."

Black men are in an even more risky position. As Anne points out, there's no evidence or even much possibility of black men having affairs with white women in the segregated town. But the cultural stereotype of white women as delicate, pure, and defenseless, and the racist image of black men as aggressive assailants, makes the imagined affair a convenient excuse for white residents to attack black men. White Southern men's desire to preserve white women from "competition" meant black men accused of sleeping with white women were likely to be lynched—whether or not the accusation was true.

The rumors and assaults finally lead to the burning of the Taplin family's home, which Moody describes with merciless detail, transporting the reader right to the spot. Anne notices the "hopelessness" of Centreville's black community. Even Mr. Banks, whose wealth and light skin color give him a protected social status compared to other black residents, isn't safe. No one is safe in Centreville if they're black. Anne, "choking to death," feels the psychological impact of racism translating to physical symptoms.

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