Coming of Age in Mississippi | Study Guide

Anne Moody

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Coming of Age in Mississippi | Part 2, Chapter 14 : High School | Summary

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Summary

Anne plans to find a waitressing job in a New Orleans restaurant, but with no experience, she can't get hired. Before Anne can return home, she and her aunt's sister, Sis, find work at a chicken factory after several factory workers walked off the job.

Initially Anne and Sis are excited for well-paid work. But as they drive to the factory and hear about the angry strikers in front of the building, Anne begins to get a "funny scary feeling" they're doing something wrong. She realizes she and the other workers have been brought in as "scabs" to replace employees on strike. Everyone on the factory line is black, though Anne's always thought of factories as places with black and white workers side by side.

The work is difficult and filthy, and the factory's suffocatingly hot. Striking workers yell insults at Anne and her friends. Her relative Johnny is angry they broke the strike, calling the factory work "slavey jobs" and accusing Anne and Sis of stealing from the workers. Anne knows the work isn't worth it, but she needs the money, and she keeps working at the factory for a month. The conditions she saw were so horrifying she can't eat boxed chicken as an adult.

Analysis

Economic oppression means Anne and others have to make hard, morally complex decisions. Her body and her conscience tell her breaking the strike isn't worth it. But if she doesn't take money away from a striking family, she'll be depriving her own family and herself. Meanwhile Johnny chose to strike for better working conditions, even though his own family went hungry. Neither decision is presented as right or wrong, but both show the issues impoverished workers face.

The overwhelming presence of rural black Mississippi residents as "scabs" or workers brought in to break a strike shows the grinding poverty in Mississippi. The state's workers will take any job they can get, however abusive the working conditions, because they have no choice. Again Moody questions how much the South has really progressed from the days of slavery.

Her traumatic memories of the slaughterhouse parallel the violent images she sees in the civil rights movement. The slaughterhouse is full of physical brutality and blood. The men who knife chickens' necks seem to enjoy killing, "their eyes sparkling with what looked to me like pleasure"—similar to the way white Southerners relish the thought of racial violence.

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