Coming of Age in Mississippi Themes
The main themes in Coming of Age in Mississippi are racism, classism, and alienation.
- Racism: Racism manifests in different forms throughout Anne's life, ranging from the verbal degradation she suffers from Mrs. Burke to the outright violence she faces as an activist.
- Classism: Anne grows up impoverished in the Mississippi Delta, and this gives her a unique perspective on the barriers Black people face in the fight for equality.
- Alienation: Due to her strong convictions, Anne often finds herself ideologically isolated from both her conservative family and the more idealistic leaders of the movement.
Anne Moody’s memoir details her childhood awareness of racial injustice and tracks how her convictions led her to leave her small, insulated Centreville community and become a civil rights activist. Racism and oppression pervade every aspect of young Anne’s life, and she struggles to oppose both White supremacy and Black complacency. Her ruthless curiosity and strong sense of justice make her an outlier in Centreville, and she spends much of her childhood confused as to why she is deemed inferior for her dark skin.
Though Anne is aware of racial differences from a young age, two events coincide that solidify her path to becoming an activist: her time working for Mrs. Burke and the murder of Emmett Till. Mrs. Burke represents everything toxic about White supremacy, and she constantly stirs up the racial prejudices of the other White women in Centreville. Mrs. Burke goes so far as to encourage her daughter, Linda Jean, to lower Anne’s wages and force Anne to call her “Mrs. Jenkins.” Working under Mrs. Burke is a challenge for the opinionated and intelligent Anne, who is forced to submit to the verbal abuse or else lose her much-needed job. This early experience speaks to the broader fears of many would-be Black voters, who avoid involving themselves politically out of fear of economic repercussions.
Emmett Till’s murder is a different sort of awakening for Anne, and she notes that the news of his death makes her fear for her life for the first time. Anne’s sense of injustice is inflamed, but she is unable to find an outlet for it within her own family. Her mother refuses to discuss Till’s murder, and the rest of the Black community in Centreville fears repercussions from White people if they bring it up. Whereas Anne is fixated on the injustice and barbarity of the event, the rest of her community is focused on self-preservation. Anne is shocked by their apparent apathy; she has learned to expect derision and cruelty from White people, but seeing the Black community go on as if nothing happened crushes Anne and increases her sense of isolation. However, Anne does eventually find a mentor in Mrs. Rice, who tells her about the NAACP and introduces Anne to activism.
Upon becoming an activist and working within the civil rights movement, Anne encounters racism from White people in a variety of forms: decreased economic opportunities, verbal abuse, threats, and outright violence. However, she comes to believe that the greatest weapon at White society’s disposal is Black apathy. Anne has great empathy for Black communities and does everything in her power to uplift and empower them, but their complacency, combined with her own fears for her safety, instill in her a deep sense of exhaustion and hopelessness. Yet, despite herself, Anne cannot fully abandon the work: even as she ponders whether her actions have been worthwhile, she still boards the bus with the other activists bound for Washington, DC, highlighting her commitment to the vital task of fighting racial inequality and oppression.
Anne contends with poverty and classism throughout her life. She must work from the age of nine onward because her single mother, despite working herself to exhaustion, is unable to earn enough to feed her growing family. Anne works primarily as a domestic helper to the White women in...
(The entire section is 1,319 words.)