Mary: An Autobiography Critical Essays

Mary E. Mebane


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Mebane knew that the story of her life was a historically important one to tell, as she was born into the last generation of African Americans subjected to the humiliation and systemic oppression of Jim Crow laws in the South. She paints a vivid, detailed portrait of growing up in the 1930’s in North Carolina, when the segregation of the races was complete and total by both custom and law. It is a part of American history best told through the personal experiences of those who suffered under the injustices perpetrated by such blatant racism.

The stark prose of Mebane’s writing style reflects the harsh environment of her childhood years. Brief vignettes of friends Irene, Inez, Miss Angeline, Daisy, Sappho, and Hettie point out the hopelessness of the lives of women born into a society that exploits their childhood, devalues their personhood, and rejects their potential.

Mebane’s unadorned language makes this book accessible to young adults while not undermining the complexity of the issues at stake. Young adults growing up in harsh, unforgiving environments find encouragement and hope reading about a survivor who refused to be crushed by the perils of violence, drugs, alcohol, poverty, and oppression. Hanging on with the slim approval of one aunt and her own resolute determination to “get out,” Mebane was single-minded in her goal to find a better way of living through education and cultural experiences.

Initially an...

(The entire section is 404 words.)