Summary and Analysis Part One: Childhood, Chapters 1 - 9
Mama: Nicknamed “Toosweet” by some members of her extended family.
Daddy: A plantation worker named Fred who is known as Diddly to adults.
Essie Mae Moody: The narrator of the novel and oldest child in her family.
Annie/Anne Moody: The narrator, after her name is changed in eighth grade.
Adline Moody: The narrator’s infant little sister, the second youngest in the family.
Junior Moody: A newborn boy, the third youngest in the family.
James Moody: The fourth youngest in the family and the child of Raymond.
Virginia: The fifth youngest child in the family, also known as Jennie Ann, and another child of Raymond.
Raymond, Jr./Jerry: The sixth youngest child in the family and another child of Raymond.
Ralph: The seventh youngest child in the family and another child of Raymond
George Lee: Mama’s brother who is Essie Mae’s and Adline’s abusive babysitter.
Raymond: The soldier Mama dates and marries after they have several babies.
Mrs. Claiborne: The white home economics teacher who hires Essie Mae and encourages her.
Miss Pearl: Raymond’s mother who snubs the Moody family.
Darlene: Raymond’s sister who is Essie Mae’s age.
Cherie: Raymond’s sister.
Mrs. Burke (Miss Minnie): Linda Jean’s mother, a white woman who is racist.
Mrs. Jenkins (Linda Jean): The white woman who hires Essie and is nice to her.
Mrs. Crosby: Mrs. Burke’s mother who is nice to Essie.
Wayne Burke: Mrs. Burke’s son who is Essie’s age and wants to befriend her.
Coming of Age in Mississippi is a memoir that begins in the early 1940s in Mississippi on a plantation owned by the Carter family. The book’s narrator Anne Moody born Essie Mae Moody, is a young child when the book opens up. In the first section of the book, entitled “Childhood,” she describes her family’s poverty over a two- to three-year period in its many manifestations, noting that her family is among the many Negro farming families living in wooden shacks and working for low wages.
As a result of their poverty, Essie Mae and her siblings are left in the care of an abusive uncle, George Lee, who frequently succeeds in shifting the blame to Essie Mae for his misdeeds. For instance, he sets fire to their home, lying to her father and telling him that she did it, which results in Essie Mae getting a severe beating. Essie observes that her father is upset about the prospects of making money from unhealthy cotton crops and how little money he makes after paying his due to Mr. Carter. She also observes a gradual rift between her parents: Her father begins spending time away from home, gambling and eventually having an affair with Florence, the widow of a former friend. Meanwhile, she hears her mother crying at night, and she learns her mother is expecting another child who will be named Junior, after her father.
Daddy soon abandons the family, leaving them with relatives. Essie starts school at Mount Pleasant, a ramshackle Baptist church, and doesn’t see her father again until her mother takes her to see her grandfather, Uncle Moody, on his deathbed. When Essie Mae runs into her father, he tries to win her affections with presents, but Mama won’t let her accept. Essie Mae, her mother, and siblings frequently move while her mother pursues jobs as a domestic and waitress. They settle near Centreville, and Mama begins dating a soldier named Raymond, eventually having a child, James, by him.
At the age of ten, Essie Mae gets her first job doing domestic chores in exchange for 75 cents a week and milk, but her mother makes her quit as Essie Mae’s employer exploits her by asking her to work increasingly long hours. Essie Mae also observes her employer selling milk to blacks, even though the cats have drunk from it. She then begins working for Mrs. Claiborne, a white home economics teacher at the white school who supports and encourages Essie Mae by mentoring her and paying her good wages.
Raymond builds the family a house along Highway 24 and moves the family there. Essie Mae...
(The entire section is 2,206 words.)