Anne Moody’s autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi the 1940s and 1950s are portrayed through the eyes of Moody. This era was riddled with prejudice and hatred, aimed at African Americans and also found within the African American community. Moody writes about her first-hand experience with these topics and many others. This essay will acknowledge and analyze her observations and experiences with race, gender, and class inequality; it will also analyze the autobiography as a whole. Early on in the autobiography Moody has her first encounter with race and realizes that there are indeed racial barriers.
She and her family had gone to the movies, and Moody had accidentally wandered into the white lobby and proceeded to get scolded by her mother for doing so. “Up until that time I had never really thought about it…I knew we were going to different schools but I never knew why. ” (26) Moody, being only a child at this point, decides that what separates the races is their privates.
So she plays a game called ‘The Doctor’ with her white friends, but does not find any difference, she says so herself, “I still hadn’t found that secret. (27) Moody’s reasoning in this particular situation is quite logical, and there is no apparent reason for whites to be better off than blacks. This situation exemplifies that race is merely constructed from the views of society. A misconceived notion about racism in the 40s and 50s is that it was a one way street. However, that was not often the case. Moody recalls when she was working for a white woman, Mrs. Claiborne, that her mother did not like her. “…I often got the feeling that Mama didn’t like Mrs.
Claiborne acting like I was her daughter…I knew for a fact that she didn’t like them treating me like their equal. ” (37) This example is one of many that shows how unwilling blacks were to assimilate. It can also be interpreted as how seemingly indifferent blacks were to being treated unequally, and if any sign of equality was present they’d be the first to stop it. With so much racism and injustice surrounding the African American community, it was only a matter of time before both of those things made their way inside the community.
Soon Moody came to realize the hatred within her own community, “…I began to think about Miss Pearl and Raymond’s people and how they hated Mama and for no reason at all than the fact that she was a couple of shades darker…I just didn’t see Negroes hating each other so much. ” (47) The wording in this quotation alone shows the gap between races and classes in the black community. Moody uses the word ‘people,’ rather than just their names to refer to Raymond and Pearl because their skin is lighter than hers and her mothers.
It is also implied that Raymond’s “people” had a higher social status, although none received any special treatment from the whites or the government. This is another example of a socially constructed racial and class barrier. Throughout the autobiography Moody is willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Even if it means working for someone she does not want to work for. “I knew that I had to take that job, I had to help secure that plate of dry beans if nothing else. ” (99) Working for Mrs.
Burke was the last thing Moody wanted to do, but she had been the main provider for her family since a very young age, and she would not let something like Mrs. Burke’s hatred for blacks get in the way of her survival. Moody would not turn a blind eye to Mrs. Burke’s cruelty. When Moody first began work for Mrs. Burke, she was told to enter through the back door (she always came through the front while working for her daughter) but Moody refused to be treated in such a way and was persistent, “Soon Mrs. Burke decided to let me do things my way. (100) We see this persistent attitude and refusal to do nothing throughout the whole book. Moody started taking a stand for what she believed was right at an early age, and continued to do so for the rest of her life. As outspoken as Moody was with what she believed, she hated the fact that a large majority of blacks accept the hatred and prejudice thrown their way. The most prominent example is when Emmit Till, a Negro boy from Chicago, is killed. After his murder Moody becomes completely aware of just how separated each race, class, and gender is.
When she first hear about the murder from a group of kids at school she feels stupid for not knowing about it earlier, but realizes, “…ever since I was nine I’d had to work after school and do my lessons on lunch hour…I never had time to hang around people my own age. ” (104) Moody had been supporting her family since age 9, and since she had to carry that burden that comes with having very little money, it left her no time to have the childhood that the children around her had had.
Although her childhood was filled with hardships, I don’t think she could have accomplished what she did later on in life without going through what she had gone through at such an early age. Another aftereffect of Emmit Till’s murder was the fear that began to grow in Moody. She writes about the different fears she has experienced: hunger, hell, and the Devil, and then describes the completely new fear that comes following Till’s death, “But now there was a new fear known to me—the fear of being killed just because I was black. (107) Moody had always been aware of race and the barriers put up because of it, but this murder forces her to realize the horrifying truth that surrounds her and all Negros of her time. After this realization, she goes to work and overhears Mrs. Burke talking with some women about the NAACP, and finds out it has something to do with Negros. This chain of events is yet another example that leads to Moody’s refusal to stand on the side lines while terrible things go on around her. Unlike most blacks at the time, Moody acknowledges her fears and does something about it.
Moody addresses her hatred for whites at the beginning of chapter 11 and also her resentment towards blacks. “I hated them for not standing up and doing something about the murders… I began to look upon Negro men as cowards. I could not respect them for smiling in a white man’s face…and calling that same white man a son of a bitch…” (110) Moody reiterates her repulsion towards the cowardice of Negros. The fact she mentions this topic so many times is implying that someone needs to do something soon or she will, which she later does when she becomes an activist and joins the NAACP.
Later on when Moody is nearing the end of high school, she is living with her father and his girlfriend Emma. In an unfortunate shotgun accident, Emma gets shot in the foot by their neighbor Wilbert. Moody admires Emma’s strength through the whole ordeal, and admired most that Emma had placed the blame on the right people, the whites, because they had made it impossible for Negros to get a job. Emma says, “If these damn white folks ain’t shootin’ nigger’s brains out, they are starving them to death. (184) Moody had been waiting a long time to meet someone who believed these things and was actually willing to say something about them. She writes, “If there were more Emmas in this world, Negros would be a whole lot better off. ” (184) This is the first mention of someone standing up for what they believe, and the fact that it was a light skinned, negro woman seemed to have inspired Moody even more. I don’t believe Moody would have accomplished all she did without staying a week in the hospital with Emma and realizing that she was not alone in her beliefs.
An autobiography is one of the genres where one must tread carefully. Since they are non-fiction, many believe autobiographies to be completely reliable sources for information. However, that is not always the case. When reading an autobiography one must have an objective mind set even if the material is completely biased. The purpose of an autobiography is to educate through the eyes of the narrator, not to confirm or deny every fact about the topic the narrator is writing about.
For example, if one were interested in learning about the Holocaust, I would recommend learning about it from both points of view, Nazi Germany and the oppressed Jews. It is hard to get the complete truth from just reading out of one source, because each narrator writes about their own truths, and each have their own set of different truths. In Moody’s autobiography, her truths and events she writes about seem to be parallel with many other sources. What she describes as life in the South in the 1950s appears to be quite accurate.
However, I did find it interesting to read about her opposing views to Martin Luther King Jr. and his non-violent protests. It is not often one finds such views expressed in an autobiography. The fact Moody did not hold back from doing what she believed was right and writing about it leads me to doubt that there is any falsity in her writing. While reading this autobiography and in writing this paper I have had time to think about how I would react to the injustice of Moody’s time. I think if I would have lived in that time I would have been a lot like Linda Jean.
I would have treated everyone as an equal, but I would have stood up to my family and to others who refused to. I’m not sure if it is because I am a product of my generation, and I, like others, think that there is always someone else who is willing to take the extra step to share their voice, but I don’t believe I would go much further than treating everyone equally. I truly hope that if there is ever a time when I do need to take a stand that I will do the right thing and not hide in the crowd like so many continue to do. Anne Moody is a woman we should all look to for inspiration.
Cite this Coming of Age in Mississippi
Coming of Age in Mississippi. (2016, Oct 14). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/coming-of-age-in-mississippi-2/