Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction Coming of Age in Mississippi Analysis
This is a sobering and serious book for young adults—for any readers, in fact. Without remorse for her bitter assessments, Moody clinically describes the festering wound of racism in American life. It is an unhappy book, filled with Moody’s voiced hatreds of the behavior of both blacks and whites, whether they are her miscegenated kinfolk, neighbors, ministers, teachers, employers, or, even in some instances, other civil rights activists and leaders. Prophetically, she closes her story hoping, but basically doubting, that her people would indeed “overcome some day.” Even as her book was being published, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.—whose nonviolent tactics she had sometimes questioned, though she worked with and admired him—was assassinated.
The book is not, however, a strident or moralistic presentation of the author’s views. Moody is as candid about herself as she is about others. She frankly confesses the self-loathing that she feels, making nothing of the fact that this may be one of the cruelest consequences of racism. She is also frank about the deficiencies of her background, about her social awkwardness, and about her confusions and doubts. Her fears about holding on to desperately needed jobs and about the imma-nent threats of physical violence within her community are expressed almost palpably. Moody realizes that the timidities of other Wilkinson County African Americans mirror her own, although she manages to control them. More important, she realizes that her hatred of despicable whites and her occasional urge to kill not only extends to many African Americans—for their cowardice as well as for the indignities that they perpetrate upon one another—but also reflects her own self-hatred.
If Moody was perfect for the Civil Rights movement, then the movement was also perfect for her. Her efforts to move a largely indifferent, frightened, and implacably traditional African-American population away from kowtowing to whites—or away from effectively collaborating with them by rejecting change and activism aimed at alleviating their plight—lifted her out of herself and gave her a sense of purpose. These efforts did so, moreover, without depriving her of her independent spirit and without blunting her criticisms or ameliorating her impatience.
Activism in a just cause also dulled her alienation from her hardworking but feckless family, particularly her implicit rejection by Mama Moody, by her real but separated father, “Diddly,” and by Mama’s lover and eventual husband, Raymond, and his extended family. There is genuine pathos in Moody’s reactions when they distance themselves from her in disapproval of her views and actions—just when she feels the most need for constancy in their love for her. The Civil Rights movement also helps to fill the void created when Emma, Diddley’s girlfriend—and in the fullness of her...
(The entire section is 683 words.)