Coming of Age in Mississippi Characters
The main characters in Coming of Age in Mississippi are Anne Moody, Elmira Moody, Fred Moody, and Raymond.
- Anne Moody is the author, narrator, and protagonist of the memoir. Anne is an intelligent child who becomes increasingly angry over the injustices she witnesses. She becomes a civil rights activist.
- Elmira "Toosweet" Moody is Anne's mother. She works hard to support her family but becomes estranged from Anne, as she disapproves of Anne's activism.
- Fred "Diddly" Moody is Anne's father. He leaves the family when Anne is young.
- Raymond is Anne's stepfather. He becomes sexually interested in Anne, prompting her to leave Centreville.
Last Updated on June 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1155
Anne is the author, protagonist, and narrator of Coming of Age in Mississippi. She is the eldest daughter of two sharecroppers and spends the first four years of her life living in a shack on the White-owned plantation where her parents work. After her parents separate, Anne feels pressure to help support the family, and she begins doing domestic work for White families shortly after beginning fourth grade. Anne’s varied experiences with her White employers awaken her to the realities of economic injustice, as she realizes that White families typically have bigger houses, more land, and more job opportunities. Anne credits Mrs. Burke as her first true exposure to outright racism.
As Anne grows increasingly aware of the injustice around her, she begins to feel disconnected from her family. After Emmett Till is murdered by a lynch mob, Anne searches for an outlet for her anger and confusion, but her efforts to discuss the injustice of Till’s death are met with consternation. It isn’t until she finds a mentor in her teacher Mrs. Rice that Anne truly begins to understand the racial divisions in society. As she matures, Anne grows more and more determined to leave Centreville after graduating, as her burgeoning sense of injustice leads her to feel stifled among the conservative and closed-minded citizens. She devotes her time and energy to various hobbies, including basketball, piano, church activities, and academics. Her intelligence and work ethic allow her to maintain high grades despite having to spend the majority of her free time working.
After high school, Anne attends Natchez University, but she finds the conservative atmosphere oppressive. Her first foray into activism comes when she organizes a strike against the cafeteria for serving maggot-infested food. Emboldened by this experience, Anne transfers to Tougaloo College and becomes increasingly involved with civil rights activism. Activism comes to define Anne’s life in the following years, and she sacrifices her grades and her relationship with her family for her cause.
Anne’s passion and resolve is repeatedly tested as she faces violent opposition from White people, a mix of apathy and fear from Black people, and concerned opposition from her own family. As time passes, these factors all begin to impact Anne, and she grows disillusioned with the lack of results the movement has produced. She notes that the movement’s leadership often seems out of touch with the daily realities of more rural Black people, and she begins to resent the optimism and idealism that speakers like Martin Luther King Jr. espouse. The memoir ends as Anne questions whether her efforts have been worthwhile, even as she joins a group of activists on their way to another march.
Elmira “Toosweet” Moody
Elmira Moody, nicknamed Toosweet, is Anne’s mother. Her husband abandons her while she is pregnant with her third child, and she moves her family to Centreville to stay with relatives. Toosweet works hard to support the family, but she still struggles to keep her children fed. She begins dating and eventually marries Raymond, a man who gives her another six children and who finds himself incapable of financially supporting the family. Toosweet does not support Anne’s activism, and she frequently discourages Anne’s burgeoning curiosity about the civil rights movement. However, Toosweet’s disapproval is the product of fear and protectiveness, not disdain. She worries that Anne’s efforts will make life more difficult for both Anne and the rest of the family, a reality that proves all too true when the police begin harassing Anne’s Centreville relatives.
Fred “Diddly” Moody
Diddly is Anne’s father. He abandons Toosweet and his children after developing a gambling habit and beginning an affair with his friend’s widow. Anne redevelops a relationship with him after leaving her mother's house, though she is eventually driven away by his new wife, Emma.
Raymond is Toosweet’s boyfriend, whom she eventually marries despite facing disapproval from his family. He builds her a house but is ultimately unable to financially support the family. Anne’s relationship with Raymond fractures when she discovers that he has a sexual interest in her, and she leaves the house forever.
Emma is Anne’s father’s second wife. Anne and Emma bond when Anne comes to live with her father after leaving Centreville. However, after Emma suffers a foot injury that renders her housebound, she takes her frustration out on Anne. Despite this, Emma continues to send Anne money.
Mrs. Rice is a high school teacher who tells Anne about the NAACP and educates her about the historical treatment of Black Americans. She is “something like a mother” to Anne, encouraging Anne’s interest in racial justice after Anne’s real mother refuses to even discuss such topics. Mrs. Rice is eventually fired from her position, evidently because of her support for the civil rights movement.
Miss Pearl is Raymond’s mother. She is mixed-race and has light skin, which leads her to scorn the comparatively dark-skinned Toosweet.
Emmett Till was a Black teenager who was brutally murdered by a lynch mob for allegedly whistling suggestively at a White woman. Though he never appears directly in the memoir, his murder inflames Anne’s sense of injustice and leads her to learn more about the NAACP from Mrs. Rice.
Mrs. Burke is a White woman who promotes racial division within Centreville and encourages her fellow White women to uphold a distinction between themselves and the Black domestic workers they hire. She hires Anne first as a domestic worker and later as a tutor for her son, Wayne. However, Mrs. Burke does not like that Wayne is friendly with Anne, and she consequently implies that Anne has stolen from her, causing Anne to angrily quit.
Linda Jean Jenkins
Linda Jean is Mrs. Burke’s daughter. She hired Anne as a domestic worker and babysitter, and pays Anne a higher wage than is typical for such a position. However, Linda Jean’s overbearing mother convinces her to lower Anne’s wages. Linda Jean offers Anne an old dress to wear when Anne is declared homecoming queen, but Anne dislikes the garment.
Mr. and Mrs. Chinn
C. O. Chinn and his wife are the wealthiest Black citizens of Canton, and they are prominent supporters of the civil rights movement. Their involvement in CORE results in them losing their business, and Mr. Chinn ends up in a chain gang.
Medgar Evers is the NAACP field secretary who is murdered in 1963, causing much unrest in the movement. Anne organizes a march in protest of his death.
Reverend King is a White minister who becomes close to Anne while they work in the movement together in Tougaloo.
Joan is the White secretary for the SNCC. She encourages Anne's involvement in the voter registration drive for the Mississippi Delta.
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