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Coming of Age in Mississippi

Anne Moody

Important Quotations Explained

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Key Facts

1. They were Negroes and we were also Negroes. I just didn’t see Negroes hating each other so much.

This remark sums up Anne’s feelings in Chapter 4. “They” are Raymond’s family, especially his mother, Miss Pearl. As lighter-skinned African Americans, they look down on Anne’s family members, who have darker skin. It is implied, though not actually stated, that they would prefer Raymond marry a woman with lighter skin. Before the civil rights movement, many lighter-skinned blacks aspired to a higher social status, though they were not given any special legal treatment. Lighter-skinned blacks were called by names like “yellow,” “mulatto,” and “high yellow,” and their skin tones reflected the predominance of white ancestry. In some cases, blacks’ appearance was indistinguishable from that of whites. In Coming of Age, the degree of intermixing among whites and blacks helps establish the absurdity of racial distinctions. The fact that blacks make such distinctions despite sharing common mistreatment by whites underscores this, and also highlights the need for unity among blacks.

After her mother is so coldly treated by Raymond’s family, Anne becomes suspicious of lighter-skinned blacks. In fact, she almost does not go to Tougaloo College because she fears the students are mostly lighter-skinned and will look down on her. She eventually becomes so suspicious of the potential prejudice of lighter-skinned blacks that she is herself prejudiced, furthering the theme of the evil of prejudice.

2. I had to help secure that plate of dry beans.

In Chapter 9, this is the reason Anne decides to work for Mrs. Burke after Linda Mae moves away. Anne does not want to work for the racist and domineering Mrs. Burke, but she cannot afford to leave work, even for one week, and Mrs. Burke is offering her a job to start immediately. She has been working cleaning houses to supplement her family’s income since she was nine years old. Not working would mean risking starvation. Even when she does work to supplement her family’s income, her diet is painfully meager. Food is an important motif in Coming of Age in Mississippi. In this case, it represents Anne’s constant struggle to survive, along with the difficult circumstances survival entails.

3. It no longer seemed important to prove anything. I had found something outside myself that gave meaning to my life.

In Chapter 22, while Anne is trying to decide what to do after college, she realizes that she is content with being an activist, and does not need to seek others’ approval or achieve financial security. Her whole life, Anne had striven for approval and recognition, and also to make money. Now, having finally achieved her college education, Anne is broke and hungry. But she does not care whether she has a real job or not. She prefers to work in the movement, where she can act on her drive to fight racial inequality, and where she feels accepted. Anne even feels more at home among her fellow activists than among her family members. When she reunites with family in New Orleans, she does not even know how to talk with them. She feels an urge to move back to Canton with the other activists. As a memoir of a life in activism, Coming of Age provides an important insight into why people would take on the risks and trying lifestyle of full-time activist. For Anne, the lack of traditional rewards is made up for by intangible ones, to the point that she is willing to go hungry.

4. We had “dreamers” instead of leaders leading us.

This is the conclusion Anne reaches in Chapter 24, while listening to the speeches given by the leaders of the civil rights movement at the famous March on Washington, particularly Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. After attending the March on Washington, Anne’s uncertainty about the movement is increased. She had already felt that the leaders of the movement were out of touch with the base, as evidenced by their emphasis on voting rights for the poor rural blacks in Mississippi rather than poverty relief. At the time Moody wrote Coming of Age, King was still alive, and so this statement was probably in part intended to affect the ongoing debate. Ironically, at around the time the book was going to print, King was in fact pushing for a change in direction in the movement to focus more on bread-and-butter issues. He was shot while rallying striking workers in Memphis. It was 1968, the same year Coming of Age was published.

5. I WONDER. I really WONDER.

These are the final words in Coming of Age in Mississippi. The statement refers to Anne’s attitude while singing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” on a bus to Washington to attend a hearing on the situation in Mississippi. She is wondering whether blacks really will overcome all of their problems. This statement reflects her severe frustration with the movement in Mississippi. After doing exhaustive work on voter registration in the small town of Canton in rural Mississippi, the situation for blacks there is arguably worse. In fact, the local man who had done the most to get the movement started in the community was now impoverished and in jail. Ultimately, Anne wishes the movement would focus on concrete economic improvements in the lives of the rural blacks, rather than on voting rights and on symbolic actions such as the Freedom Vote, a mock vote to protest the real vote in Mississippi. She works to distribute clothing to the poor of Canton, and tries to establish a program to help blacks borrow money to buy their own farms. She believes that economic security will give blacks the power and inclination to demand all their other rights. Yet Anne is not just disappointed with the movement. She is disgusted that so many whites in Mississippi are holding on so hard and so violently to racial inequality. She also is saddened by the willingness of so many blacks to compensate for the injustices rather than stick their necks out to seek change.

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