Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
Anne Moody’s stark, often bitter, and always compelling autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi, records the events in her life as a young African American from the South from her fourth to her twenty-fourth year—1944 to 1964. Written in the first person, the book is a detailed, chronological narrative, rich in characters and dialogues evocative of the earthy, often raw vernacular of impoverished and racially oppressed African Americans in Mississippi during the formative period of the Civil Rights movement. There are thirty chapters grouped in four parts: “Childhood,” “High School,” “College,” and “The Movement.” In keeping with the story’s grim, poignant tone, it is unadorned by illustration, except for the funereal black boxes demarcating each part and chapter. While there is no necessity for notes, a bibliography, or appendices, either a cast of characters or an index (given the unusual range of personalities and the mix of colloquial and real names) would have proved helpful. Given the book’s quality, however, this is a minor complaint.
As an intelligent and increasingly well-trained and experienced young woman, Moody has made her frustration, alienation, and doubt the central themes of her work. Given her abilities, frustration was nothing less than a virulent social disease to which she inevitably fell victim: frustration with her family’s hand-to-mouth existence, with its quarrels and instabilities, and with...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
In Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody reflects on her childhood as the first of nine children born to poor tenant farmers in rural Mississippi. She also provides a telling glimpse into that period in southern culture between 1940 and 1965 when African Americans still labored in fields as sharecroppers for white landowners but growing unrest led to the emergence of the Civil Rights movement. Dividing her autobiography into four distinct parts, she covers her education in segregated primary and secondary schools then relates her experiences in college and later as a civil rights activist.
The Moody family was constantly moving from one run-down shack without electricity or plumbing to another, barely surviving on bread and beans with occasional table scraps from white employers. Anne helped by caring for her younger siblings and then working as a housecleaner and babysitter for white landowners. She was unaware of any racial divide until, when she was seven, she and two siblings followed some white playmates into the segregated lobby of a local movie theater. The ensuing ruckus brought her the sad realization that she was perceived as inferior to whites. Rather than railing at the unfairness of this perception, she became an observer, an inquisitor into the strange idea that skin color had anything to do with who she was.
Moody attended segregated schools, initially accepting her status because she was eager to learn. Increasingly, however, her anger grew, especially when she saw the doctrine of “separate but equal” for what it was: separate and inferior, with leftovers used to furnish African American schools, cast-off texts to educate African American students, and sometimes ill-qualified teachers...
(The entire section is 711 words.)
Questions and Answers Childhood: Chapters 1 – 9
1. Anne Moody begins her memoir by outlining black life on a white-owned plantation in the South. What themes does she introduce in chapter one, and how do they recur throughout the ensuing chapters in “Childhood,” the first section of her memoir?
2. Why does Mama cry whenever she is expecting a baby?
3. Essie Mae has a vivid nightmare about how the sun will swallow up her family or kill them of heatstroke while they are working in the fields. How might this dream be interpreted as an observation about farm labor and its role in subjugating black families?
4. Essie Mae enjoys attending Centreville Baptist, but Mama...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
Questions and Answers High School: Chapters 10 – 17
1. Emmett Till’s murder and Jerry’s harassment show Anne that the deck is stacked against blacks in Mississippi. How are these men punished for acts that white men freely commit? What is the violence against them supposed to teach blacks?
2. When Anne returns to Centreville from a summer away and asks her family about Benty and Rosetta, an interracial couple who have been run out of town, her mother gets upset and won’t discuss the topic. How does this reveal Anne's character and foreshadow her family’s response to her growing frustration with southern racism?
3. Anne lives in a tense environment where several hard-to-avoid topics are taboo subjects of...
(The entire section is 715 words.)
Questions and Answers College: Chapters 18 – 21
1. In what ways are Miss Harris and Mrs. Adams like Mrs. Burke?
2. How does Anne respond to her family’s discouragement of her activism?
3. What is Anne afraid of upon starting class at Tougaloo?
4. Anne learns that the problems she saw among blacks in Centreville aren’t unique to her hometown. Give an example to illustrate that this is true.
5. Why don’t Anne and Rose succeed at their impromptu bus station sit-in?
1. Miss Harris and Mrs. Adams are similar to Mrs. Burke because both women try to abuse their authority, lying to younger people and treating them as inferiors.
(The entire section is 186 words.)
Questions and Answers The Movement: Chapters 22 – 30
1. The more Anne participates in the civil rights movement, the more resistance she gets from her family. How does this affect her?
2. How is religion linked yet separate from the civil rights movement in communities where Anne is working?
3. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached that the best way to counter violence and racism was with nonviolence Anne Moody asks if there is a point at which greeting repeated violence with nonviolence is foolish. Why does she wonder about this?
4. More than once, Anne compares the way blacks are treated to how the Nazis oppressed and victimized Jews...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
Andrews, William L. “In Search of a Common Identity: The Self and the South in Four Mississippi Autobiographies.” The Southern Review 24, no. 1 (Winter, 1988): 47-64. Presents an excellent overview of Mississippi life as detailed in works by two white and two African American autobiographers: William Percy (1941) and Willie Morris (1967), and Richard Wright (1945) and Anne Moody (1968).
Bloom, Lynn Z. “Coming of Age in the Segregated South: Autobiographies of Twentieth-Century Childhoods, Black and White.” In Home Ground: Southern Autobiography, edited by J. Bill Berry. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991. Good at...
(The entire section is 259 words.)