(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

InComing Up Down Home: A Memoir of a Southern Childhood, Cecil Brown presents a child shaped by the clash between agricultural and urban living and by the omnipresent tension of racism in the South. Morris, the first-person narrator of Coming Up Down Home, is reared primarily by his aunt and uncle, who teach him the value of education and hard work. As teenagers, Morris and his brother are returned to their father, who has been released from prison. Culphert (Cuffy) Brown is a violent man who rejects the importance of education and culture but who supports Morris in surprising ways, such as buying him a new, top-of-the-line saxophone when Morris has the opportunity to join the high school band. Morris has the skills of a farmer but combines them with knowledge gleaned from school in order to move beyond his father’s limitations. Morris notes that “I found the hard life of being a farmer’s son alleviated by the ability to attach words and values to previously mundane surroundings. It opened up a whole new world for me.”

Morris consistently attempts to escape his agricultural roots and his violent home life. At sixteen, he spends a summer in New York, where he discovers that the same racism he took for granted as a child in the South is present in New York, but in subtler forms. Upon his return to Bolton, Morris realizes that he can no longer live the life of a sharecropper’s son. He discovers the strength to defy his often-abusive father, ultimately winning a college scholarship without Cuffy’s knowledge. The main body of the memoir ends with Morris’ departure, when Cuffy presents him with a typewriter, foreshadowing Brown’s successful career as an author.

Coming Up Down Home, like many of Brown’s works, makes frequent use of African American folk traditions. The reader experiences a sermon in a black church, numerous toasts, gospel songs, and other elements of the African American oral tradition. Morris includes these in his narrative without comment, implying that such forms are integral to growing up African American.