Analysis

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Last Reviewed on September 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 354

Russell Baker’s memoir Growing Up emphasizes his early years, especially the challenges of life during the Great Depression, and takes him up to his marriage. Although his family clearly suffered numerous deprivations, Baker impresses the reader with his lack of sentimentality. Although raised in a single-parent household, as his father died when Russell was five, he was also immersed in his extended family and benefitted from numerous adults’ input. Such relationships spanned the three primary locales of his childhood: Virginia, New Jersey, and Baltimore, Maryland.

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Perhaps because so many others lived in the same circumstances, Baker’s approach to such things as working while a young child is matter-of-fact. His admiration for his mother emerges strongly, as he recounts her consistent efforts to do more for him and his siblings. Her second marriage took them to Baltimore, where Baker spent his high school years. He is also straightforward in relating his own academic accomplishments, which earned him admission to Johns Hopkins University.

As for countless other youths of his generation, World War II marked a turning point for Baker. He joined the military as soon as he was eligible and finished growing up during military service. The ethos of service and patriotism emerges strongly as a motivating factor that shaped not only his years on active duty but also his approach to his chosen field of journalism. Appreciating his good fortune at being able to return home, Baker also resumed his education at Hopkins, where he was to meet his future wife.

Although the memoir emphasizes the personal dimensions of Baker’s life, the reader gets to know the real Baker still better toward its end. Because his vocation as a journalist became such as central part of his identity, and because he is a gifted writer, the glimpses Baker offers of the start of his career offer insights into what really make him tick. Rather than emphasizing his future success, such as having his own New York Times column, Baker is refreshingly modest about the combined importance of strong family support and a dollop of serendipity in getting him to that point.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

Russell Baker begins Growing Up in 1981 at the bedside of his mother. She has become feeble, her memory erratic, and Baker uses fragments of her memories as a starting point for placing his own memories into context. He ends the book at her bedside as well, and the visits to his mother bracket this memoir. The body of the book takes place during the years between Baker’s birth in 1925 and his marriage in 1950 and may be roughly divided into four sections.

The first section of Growing Up is set in Morrisonville, Virginia, Baker’s birthplace. He was the oldest of three children born to Benjamin and Lucy Elizabeth Baker. His early years were spent in rural Virginia, living among his many Baker relatives. His grandmother, Ida Rebecca, was the matriarch of a family of thirteen children, most of whom lived nearby.

The next section describes his father’s death from diabetes in 1930, at which time his mother moved the family to Newark, New Jersey, to live with her brother and his wife. Later, the families moved to Belleville, New Jersey, and as the Depression deepened, the group was joined by other relatives. Lucy Baker was determined to have a home of her own, but she was unable to save enough to accomplish that goal. As a result, when she was promised by her brother Hal that he could help them acquire a home if they moved to Baltimore, Lucy packed up the children and moved them there.

The third section of Growing Up deals with Baker’s high-school and college years. When his mother remarried, the family moved, at last, into the...

(The entire section contains 3627 words.)

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