Part 1: Chapters 1–9 Summary and Analysis
In the 1940s, Anne Moody’s family lives on a plantation in Mississippi, where they work as sharecroppers. 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 Black farming families living in wooden shacks and working for low wages.
As a result of their poverty, Anne—then called Essie Mae—and her siblings are left in the care of an abusive uncle, George Lee, who frequently succeeds in shifting the blame to Anne for his misdeeds. For instance, George sets fire to their home, lying to her father and telling him that she did it, which results in Anne getting a severe beating. Anne 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 opening 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 that her mother is expecting another child.
Anne’s father abandons the family, leaving them to live with relatives. Anne 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 Anne runs into her father, he tries to win her affections with presents, but her mother won’t let her accept them. Anne, her mother, and her siblings frequently move while her mother pursues jobs as a domestic worker and waitress. They settle near Centreville, and Anne’s mother begins dating a soldier named Raymond, eventually having her fourth child, James, with him.
At the age of ten, Anne gets her first job: doing domestic chores. She is paid seventy-five cents per week and given free milk, but her mother makes her quit, as Anne’s employer exploits her by asking her to work increasingly long hours. Anne also observes her employer selling milk that cats have already drunk from to Black people. Anne then begins working for Mrs. Claiborne, a White home economics teacher who supports and encourages Anne by mentoring her and paying her good wages.
Raymond builds the family a house. Anne notes that since they left the plantation, they have moved six times.
The home Raymond offers them is an improvement upon their prior quarters, with more space, and they are able to buy new furniture. But it is also near his extended family’s property. Raymond’s mother, Miss Pearl, looks down on Anne’s mother and lives in a larger and better-appointed house. The Moodys grow accustomed to living with Raymond and get along with Darlene and Cherie, Raymond’s sisters. It becomes clear that Anne excels in both academics and sports, especially basketball, but her siblings lack either aptitude or ambition.
However, it also becomes clear that Miss Pearl will not accept the Moodys. When Anne’s mother has another baby, Miss Pearl comes to visit and behaves rudely—examining the baby but barely acknowledging Anne’s mother. Through this episode, Anne becomes aware that class distinctions exist not just between Whites and Blacks, but also among Blacks. She reflects on the White employers and teachers who have encouraged her, then notes that Miss Pearl and her people, who are also Black but who have lighter skin than the Moody family, snub other Blacks. Anne finds this difficult to process.
Raymond and Miss Pearl attend the city church, Centreville Baptist, while Anne’s mother still belongs to and attends the more rural Mount Pleasant. Anne’s mother ultimately tricks Anne into joining Mount Pleasant, where she is baptized in a muddy stream at a packed public ceremony.
Raymond buys land to begin work as a cotton farmer, but the enterprise is a difficult one. The land he buys, formerly used by the military, contains buried grenades. In addition to having to...
(The entire section is 1,878 words.)