Becoming Analysis

  • Michelle Obama’s bestselling memoir Becoming offers unique insight into American life and politics and the presidency from the perspective of the United States’s first African American First Lady.
  • Michelle allows her readers to connect to her on a personal level: she lived in the White House, but she also faced setbacks in her marriage and attempted to keep her daughters’ lives normal. 
  • Narrating the challenges she has navigated, such as her struggle to lower her daughter’s body mass index, Michelle reveals the inspiration behind many of her actions and efforts as First Lady.

Analysis

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Last Updated on March 16, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 648

Becoming is Michelle Obama’s critically-acclaimed and best-selling memoir, in which she narrates her “becoming”—her journey from dedicated elementary school student to First Lady of the United States and beyond. As the United States’ first African American First Lady, she offers a unique perspective on the challenges of the American dream...

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Becoming is Michelle Obama’s critically-acclaimed and best-selling memoir, in which she narrates her “becoming”—her journey from dedicated elementary school student to First Lady of the United States and beyond. As the United States’ first African American First Lady, she offers a unique perspective on the challenges of the American dream and the criticism that comes with the limelight of the White House. 

Despite her guidance counselor’s warnings that she wouldn’t be accepted to Princeton University, Michelle Obama attended Princeton and Harvard Law School. She accepted a high-paying position as a lawyer at Sidley & Austin (where she mentored her future husband, Barack Obama) but left when she found the role unfulfilling. She instead embarked on a journey through many different positions that involved helping her community and culminated in her activist role as First Lady. 

When Barack became president, the Obamas’ lives changed drastically. They lived in the most famous house in the country under heavy security and public scrutiny, but Michelle’s depictions of the presidential campaign and their life afterwards proves them to be unexpectedly human. Barack and Michelle’s relationship is relatable to many: they struggled throughout their marriage with their conflicting personalities, perspectives, schedules, and infertility. At one point, they attended couples therapy; Michelle explained that, like the “Harvard-trained lawyer” that she is, she was constantly gathering “evidence” against Barack—which in turn contributed to her bitterness, especially in the midst of his intense campaign schedules. Barack worked on communication in their marriage, and Michelle realized that she could take charge of her own happiness by establishing a schedule for herself and her daughters that didn’t waver with every change in Barack’s. While living in the White House, they watched college basketball with the butlers, attended their daughters’ school events (though accompanied by a secret service detail), and struggled to potty-train their dog Sunny. In all of this, readers are given an inside glimpse at the lives and personalities of the Obamas and are introduced on a more intimate level to figures they likely know only through the media. 

In addition to this snapshot of life in the White House, Michelle narrates her process of becoming First Lady. The title “First Lady of the United States” comes without a job description: though women in the role today typically choose a cause to promote during their time in office, this expectation was formed by tradition and the examples of First Ladies who came before. Michelle’s selection of childhood nutrition as her focus was inspired by a very personal experience—her struggle to lower her daughter Malia’s body mass index as a child. 

Through her Let’s Move! initiative and various White House programs and events, Michelle strove to open her home to children. She dug into the dirt with them in the White House garden, teaching them about the importance of healthy eating; formed a mentorship program for high school girls on topics such as finance, careers, and self-image; and hoped to make the White House feel like home for them, believing that if they felt comfortable there, they’d feel “confident in any room, sitting at any table, raising their voices inside any group.” Remembering the impact of her parents and other mentors in her own “becoming,” Michelle sought to prepare children for successful and fulfilling lives like her own.

The success of Becoming speaks for itself: it became the bestselling book of 2018, despite its publication in November of that year, and is quickly becoming the best-selling memoir of all time. The memoir will undoubtedly be considered an important historical work for decades to come—not only for its intimate perspectives from the United States’ first African American First Lady but also because it inspires readers to challenge ideas, use their voices, and help their country become the best version of itself.

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