Growing Up Summary

Growing Up is a Pulitzer Prize–winning 1982 memoir chronicling author and journalist Russell Baker’s childhood and young adulthood.

  • Russell Baker grew up during the Great Depression. He was raised by his fiercely determined single mother, Elizabeth, after the death of his and his sisters’ father.
  • Baker earned a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University and attended college there before enlisting in the Navy Air Corps during World War II.
  • The war ended before Baker completed his military training. He met and married a woman named Mimi, eventually having children and grandchildren.


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Last Updated on July 6, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470


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Growing Up is a memoir written by American writer Russell Baker. Published in 1982, it tells the story of Baker’s childhood and young adulthood during the Great Depression and World War II.

Much of the memoir focuses on Baker’s relationship with his mother, Elizabeth, who has become senile in her old age. Baker regrets that he asked Elizabeth very little about her past when he had the chance and that it is now too late for her to tell him about her life. Despite his children showing the same disinterest in his history that she showed in Elizabeth’s, he is determined to tell his children about his past while he is still able to.

Plot Summary

Baker is born in rural Virginia in 1925. His mother, Elizabeth, earns money for the family as a teacher, and his father, Benny, is an alcoholic. Baker has two sisters, Doris and Audrey. When their father dies in 1931, a paternal uncle adopts Audrey. Elizabeth, Baker, and Doris move to New Jersey to live with Elizabeth’s brother Allen and his wife, Pat. However, as the Depression is escalating, Elizabeth is unable to find work. At eight years old, Baker starts to earn some extra money for his family by selling newspapers, thus sparking his interest in a future career as a journalist.

Uncle Allen’s brothers, Charlie and Hal, move in with the family when they are living in New Jersey. Hal talks Elizabeth into giving him seventy-five dollars—which, at the time, was a great deal of money—to start a lumber business; however, he never starts the business, leaving Elizabeth worse off than before. After six years in New Jersey, Elizabeth, Baker, and Doris leave and move to Baltimore, motivated once more by Hal’s false promises of business opportunities.

Elizabeth wants a better life for Baker, and he is enrolled at a local high school, where he has to compete with students who were far more privileged than he was growing up. Baker finds himself caught in between two social classes—white-collar and blue-collar—and he struggles to keep up in school. However, Baker works hard in his classes, and he manages to earn a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University.

In 1943, during World War II, Baker drops out of college to become a pilot in the Navy Air Corps. However, the war ends before he completes his training. Baker returns to Baltimore, finishes his studies at Johns Hopkins, and begins work as a journalist at the Baltimore Sun. He meets Mimi, an uneducated but financially independent woman, whom he marries four years later. Baker and Mimi have children and, eventually, grandchildren. Elizabeth becomes old and develops dementia and is moved into a nursing home, where Baker and his family visit her, even though Elizabeth can no longer remember much.


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