Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In Mary: An Autobiography, it is initially through the heart of a child that Mary Mebane shows the early years of her life in the rural South in the 1930’s. Mebane’s wide eyes see everything with eagerness and wonder. Of these early years, she reports, “I was in the center of life and I didn’t miss a thing; nothing slipped by unobserved or unnoted. My problems started when I began to comment on what I saw.” Unaware of her deprivation, Mebane grew in observation and in wonder at doodlebugs and grasshoppers, comparing sores and scabs with the other children, picking berries with the neighbors, and delighting in the junk piles that her father recycled in a meager attempt to provide for his family.

Over time, however, the insidious messages of both family and society blunted Mebane’s buoyancy and optimism. Gradually, she learned the troubling truth that her mother had “no warmth, no love, no human feeling” for her. This damage was further compounded by the dawning realization that her brothers would not defend her and that few friends understood her. Her school received discarded books from the white school in town; a white woman disposed of a cup from which Mebane’s brother had drunk. Danger and violence were rampant, and the capricious power of the whites was ever a source of anxiety. Eventually, Mebane realized that African Americans exploited one another and were induced by their subservient position to value that which...

(The entire section is 408 words.)