Coming of Age in Mississippi Key Ideas and Commentary
by Anne Moody

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(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Anne Moody’s stark, often bitter, and always compelling autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi, records the events in her life as a young African American from the South from her fourth to her twenty-fourth year—1944 to 1964. Written in the first person, the book is a detailed, chronological narrative, rich in characters and dialogues evocative of the earthy, often raw vernacular of impoverished and racially oppressed African Americans in Mississippi during the formative period of the Civil Rights movement. There are thirty chapters grouped in four parts: “Childhood,” “High School,” “College,” and “The Movement.” In keeping with the story’s grim, poignant tone, it is unadorned by illustration, except for the funereal black boxes demarcating each part and chapter. While there is no necessity for notes, a bibliography, or appendices, either a cast of characters or an index (given the unusual range of personalities and the mix of colloquial and real names) would have proved helpful. Given the book’s quality, however, this is a minor complaint.

As an intelligent and increasingly well-trained and experienced young woman, Moody has made her frustration, alienation, and doubt the central themes of her work. Given her abilities, frustration was nothing less than a virulent social disease to which she inevitably fell victim: frustration with her family’s hand-to-mouth existence, with its quarrels and instabilities, and with the brainwashed acceptance of its assigned inferiorities; frustration over the brutalities that White dominance forced Blacks to impose on one another; and frustration with alternately contemptuous, manipulative, and violent White treatment of, and reactions to, African Americans. These feelings were all traceable to the stranglehold locked on her people by a traditionally...

(The entire section is 422 words.)