Coming of Age in Mississippi Chapter Summary

Summarize chapter 1 of Coming of Age in Mississippi.

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Anne Moody’s autobiographical account of growing up as an African American in the United States, specifically, in the Deep South, begins appropriately enough with detail of her early childhood. That childhood is filled with tragedy, and the daily degradations associated with Mississippi before the advent of the Civil Rights movement. This is the story of a desperately poor black family in the heart of the American South, and Moody, born Essie Mae, represents the quintessential African American child growing up with little prospects for a better future solely because of the color of her skin. The opening sentence of Coming of Age in Mississippi foretells a dismal story that, sadly, was true: “I’m still haunted by dreams of the time we lived on Mr. Carter’s plantation. . . We all lived in rotten wood two-room shacks.”

The degradations of segregation and existence as sharecroppers on a white-owned plantation are prevalent throughout this opening chapter of Moody’s book. Growing up in a dysfunctional and harsh environment, Moody observes and experiences a great deal, including being witness to the humiliations her parents endure. She and her sister, Adline, are babysat by an eight-year-old uncle, George Lee, who beats Essie Mae for any perceived infraction and eventually burns the family’s house down. He then blames it on Essie Mae. Her father cheats on her pregnant mother. Essie Mae is forced to begin work at the age of nine to help support the family. The destruction of the family’s home in the fire causes Essie Mae’s father to slip into a depressed state when coupled with the indignities that already defined his existence as a sharecropper in the 1940s in Mississippi. Her father’s depression is worsened by the death of his closest friend, Bush, and her father’s gambling habit exacerbates the family’s already dismal financial situation. Her parents’ marriage continues to disintegrate, and there is another mouth to feed when her brother Junior is born.

Chapter 1 of Coming of Age in Mississippi also includes Moody’s description of her school, which was in the church she attended. Reverend Cason serves both as head of the church and as the schoolteacher, and he is physically and emotionally abusive towards the children in his charge. Reverend Cason rules by intimidation, and his tactics provide a sorry complement to the abuses young Essie Mae endures at home. If there is one bright spot in Essie Mae’s young life, it is her grandfather, a kind elderly man who is, unfortunately, seriously ill. Finally, Essie, Adline, and Junior’s father reappears in an emotionally diminished state. While “Daddy” attempts to connect with Essie Mae, “Mama” reacts with disdain towards her former husband, rejecting the money he offers his older daughter. With this, Chapter 1 comes to an end.