Questions and Answers Childhood: Chapters 1 – 9

Study Questions
1. Anne Moody begins her memoir by outlining black life on a white-owned plantation in the South. What themes does she introduce in chapter one, and how do they recur throughout the ensuing chapters in “Childhood,” the first section of her memoir?

2. Why does Mama cry whenever she is expecting a baby?

3. Essie Mae has a vivid nightmare about how the sun will swallow up her family or kill them of heatstroke while they are working in the fields. How might this dream be interpreted as an observation about farm labor and its role in subjugating black families?

4. Essie Mae enjoys attending Centreville Baptist, but Mama succeeds in getting her to join Mount Pleasant. How does Mama do this? Why does Mama want her there?

5. Mrs. Burke is the most overtly racist employer Essie encounters. How does she directly and indirectly try to teach Essie Mae that she is inferior? How does Essie Mae respond?

Answers
1. Essie Mae observes that farm work is difficult; that men are unreliable, and yet her mother is dependent on them; that children aren’t adequately cared for on plantation farms; and that there is a disparity in the perceived beauty of pale-skinned versus dark-skinned blacks, as noted when Daddy (Diddly) pursues Florence.

2. Mama is frequently pregnant during points of tension in her relationship (when Diddly leaves) or when the family is particularly poor. In both instances, she is likely overwhelmed at the prospect of feeding and caring for another child in an environment where her existing children have so little opportunity and her relationship is in jeopardy.

3. Essie Mae saw both Daddy and Raymond struggle to make money from crops planted in barely-arable land, and the idea of pursuing farm work frightens her. She associates it with her family’s poverty.

4. Mama is uncomfortable with Miss Pearl, who attends Centreville. When Mama takes the children there, she is nervous and worried about whether or not she and the children are good enough. Her move to get Essie Mae to join Mount Pleasant may be a ploy to keep Essie Mae from becoming too close to the more formal social environment Raymond’s family enjoys, and it may also be a way of holding Essie Mae back socially, where Mama feels she belongs.

5. Mrs. Burke encourages Essie Mae to start calling Linda Jean “Mrs. Jenkins.” She locks the front door so Essie will use the back door. She tries to get Essie Mae to change the way she irons. Essie, however, resists, deciding she will do things her own way but also do a good job until Mrs. Burke leaves her alone. This approach is successful.