Study Questions 1. Emmett Till’s murder and Jerry’s harassment show Anne that the deck is stacked against blacks in Mississippi. How are these men punished for acts that white men freely commit? What is the violence against them supposed to teach blacks?
2. When Anne returns to Centreville from a summer away and asks her family about Benty and Rosetta, an interracial couple who have been run out of town, her mother gets upset and won’t discuss the topic. How does this reveal Anne's character and foreshadow her family’s response to her growing frustration with southern racism?
3. Anne lives in a tense environment where several hard-to-avoid topics are taboo subjects of discussion. Name at least three issues that concern her that she cannot discuss with family or friends in her repressed environment.
4. Mrs. Burke becomes meaner and more manipulative in this section of the book as she tries to humiliate Anne into accepting “her place” in society. Name three things she does to try and scare Anne into conforming to the role of a subservient black domestic.
5. Anne’s independence causes difficulty with both her biological and stepparents. Give examples of how she is isolated within her family and how that helps build her character.
Answers 1. Emmett Till is murdered for flirting with a white woman, and Jerry is beaten up on suspicion of making calls to a white woman’s house—something he didn’t do. Yet Anne notes that white men take black mistresses and even rape black women at will. She despises the irony in how the white men who are punishing black men behave in their own personal lives.
2. Anne’s mother would prefer she not ask difficult questions, opting instead to accept the status quo. While her mother is afraid of the consequences of opposing racism, Anne wants to confront it. This establishes a tension with her family that will heighten in future chapters: When Anne becomes an activist, Mama and Adline write her and beg her to stop, but her family’s complacency only succeeds in angering her.
3. First, Anne can’t freely discuss white oppression of blacks with her family; until Emmett Till’s death, for instance, she had been told that blacks’ deaths resulted from “the evil spirit” coming after them. Secondly, she learns that many blacks are trying to change the status quo through the NAACP, but that the organization is both dangerous and powerful. The teacher who tells her about it leaves mysteriously at the end of the school year, and lynching victim Samuel O’Quinn is a suspected member. Third, Anne’s sexuality and body attract attention from both Raymond and her coach, Mr. Hicks. Neither man is physically inappropriate toward her, but Raymond’s hostility toward her and Mr. Hicks’s favoritism stem from their attraction to her. Mama is unable to help her around her discomfort and even tells Anne how nice Mr. Hicks is, almost encouraging his interest.
4. Mrs. Burke remarks on the murder of Emmett Till, noting he didn’t know his place. She asks Anne to tutor her son and his friends, then hovers uncomfortably when they befriend one another as equals rather than take on race-related roles to one another. She asks Anne if she believes in integrated schools, then is angry when she learns that Anne believes she and her son could attend the same school. She makes it clear she could get Anne or her brother, Junior, in trouble if she accused them of stealing. She refers Anne to a friend for a job in a Centreville retail store, but the job turns out to be as...
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a janitor rather than a more respectable position.
5. Anne can’t relate to her mother’s acceptance of racism or her stepfather Raymond’s attraction and hostility toward her. She isn’t sure how to behave with her father, since she hasn’t lived with him since she was six, nor with her stepmother, who seems alternately happy to have her at their home and irritated with her. This discomfort feeds her self-reliance and makes her aware of adults’ insecurity, and further convinces her that she needs to live her life her own way rather than try to gain the full support of these very fallible people.