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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chapter Summaries, Part 1 of 4, Coming of Age in Mississippi, by Anne Moody

Book Summary

The book is divided into four parts:
1) Childhood
2) High School
3) College
4) The Movement

Below are the most important events in each of these four parts of the novel and how they affect Anne Moody and her coming of age.

Part One: Childhood


Chapter 1


Anne (Essie Mae) lives with her mother, her father, her sister Adline, and her brother Junior on "Mr. Carter's plantation." Although the story is set in the late 1940's, the reader can't tell from the first page of the novel exactly what time period the story is in. It sounds like it could be any time - before or after the civil war and reconstruction. Moody begins the book this way in order to show the timelessness of black oppression in America.  

The first major event: George Lee, Essie Mae's cousin who is babysitting for her and her siblings, burns down the family's house in a fit of anger and blames it on Essie Mae. When Daddy gets home, Essie Mae gets punished for a crime she didn't commit. This forshadows the injustice and tyranny that will always lurk in Essie Mae's life. 

Chapter 2

Essie Mae's parents separate. Her dad abandons her pregnant mom for a "yellow woman," a mulatto Florence who "holds herself high and mighty" because she is not fully black. Essie Mae's mom is a strong woman, a survivor. After much crying and pain, she manages to find a job in the city and supports her four kids on her cafe salary. Essie Mae's strength throughout the novel is definitely influenced her mother's resourcefulness and ability to survive in the face of poverty and crisis.  

Chapter 3

Essie Mae visits the house of her grandmother (Winnie) with her Uncle Ed, and she finds two white-looking boys, Sam and Walter, who are also sons of Winnie and are her uncles. She is confused because she doesn't know why her uncles look white. Her mother is snappy with her when she asks her why. This is one of the first times she is confronted with the difference in skin color in her life. 

Chapter 4

The next time she is confronted with the issue of race is when she makes friends with a few white neighbors as a kid and goes to see movies with them. She discovers that she is not allowed to go to the regular seats with the white kids but must go to the balcony with the black people. She doesn't understand what made her white playmates different from her and why they have better toys than she does. She tries playing "doctor" and examines them to find an answer but is unable to do so. This shows Essie Mae's early concern with the question of race, an issue which she spends her whole life pondering over and fighting for. 

Chapter 5

Essie Mae begins working for white ladies starting when she's 9 years old in order to help out with the family. She works for many employers, some kind and some nasty. Her first employer paid her two nickles a week and some disgusting sour milk that has been lapped up by cats.

There's Linda Jean, a very nice white employer, and her mother Mrs. Burke who is a terrible control freak white supremicist. But the employer that influences Essie Mae the most is Mrs. Clairborne, who treats Essie Mae like a daughter and allows her to eat at the table with the white family and teaches Essie Mae about the white world. Essie Mae is different from her peers and from her family because of her education from Mrs. Clairborne and her white employers. She learns early on what race means in America, and that is why she is so much more concerned about the issue of race than her mother and her friends.  

Chapter 6

Mama has a long affair with a man named Raymond. She has three kids with Raymond but Raymond would not marry her. Raymond's mother, Miss Pearl, did not like Mama. Miss Pearl was also "yellow" and bigotted about being less black than Mama. Finally, Raymond and Mama do get married, but Raymond is a coward and never ever finds the courage to stand up to his mother.

Mama, Raymond, and the kids move in next to Miss Pearl and her family. Essie Mae is set in eternal competition with Darlene, a girl her age who is a granddaughter of Miss Pearl in the house next door. Mama tries really hard to get Miss Pearl to like her, but is never able to do so, and is always really sad. Raymond never stands up for Mama.  

Chapter 7

Trying to get on Miss Pearl's good side, Mama joins Miss Pearl's church and gets Essie Mae to do so too. Essie Mae does very well in Sunday school and gets very involved in the church community. But Mama wasn't happy because Miss Pearl was still mean to her and would not accept her. After one really bad Sunday, Mama decides to go to back to her old Church at Centreville and forces Essie Mae to go back with her too. 

Chapter 8

Raymond tries to farm. It's a difficult process. He buys land cheap, only to find the land is loaded with hand grenades and mines from the war. He tills through the land and plants cotton. The cotton grows okay but they don't make nearly enough money from it. Essie Mae works one summer on the farm. She hates the sun and is dreadfully afraid of getting a sun stroke. She decides when she grows up she would never be a farmer because she wants to get out of this black system of poverty. She doesn't want to live her life like my mother and Raymond.

"I knew if I got involved in farming, I'd be just like Mama and the rest of them, and that I would never have the chance." (p.89) 

Chapter 9

Linda Jean, an employer of Essie Mae, is a poor white woman. She treats Essie Mae nicely, but her mother, Mrs. Burke is terribly white-supremicist. She insists on Essie Mae"'"s calling Linda Jean '"'Mrs. Jenkins.'"' When Essie Mae works for Mrs. Burke, Mrs. Burke tries to do everything and anything to break Essie Mae"'"s spirit and make Essie do things her way (ex. The correct way to iron shirts; using the back door instead of the front). But Essie Mae persists and eventually tires out Mrs. Burke. Essie Mae"'"s strength and stubbornness is reflected in her struggle with Mrs. Burke. 

Chapter 10


Essie Mae is a beautiful young girl and wins homecoming queen in 8th grade. In the process she fundraises a lot of money for her school with the help of her homeroom and her homeroom teacher. She learns a lot about organizing people from this experience, a skill she will use later on in the Black Empowerment Movement. Daddy buys her a beautiful blue dress for her homecoming parade.



4 comments:

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  3. Please check out this list of great US High schools. Maybe even yours alma mater will be there. Chears!

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  4. George Lee would be Essie Mae's Uncle...Not Cousin...
    "George Lee was Mama's eight-year-old Brother" (Ch1,pg4) - So the brother of someone's mother, would be the Uncle to the Child of said mother. In this case, George is Essie Mae's Uncle.

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