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Coming of Age in Mississippi

Main Ideas

Themes

Main Ideas Themes

The Absurdity of Racial Distinctions

While Anne does not question that race and racism are very real facts of life, she does show how absurd and arbitrary racial distinctions are. During Anne’s childhood, many whites publicly argued that blacks were genetically inferior to whites. One of the most memorable episodes of Coming of Age is when Anne, as a child, has her white friends undress so she can examine their genitalia for the secret of their better luck in life. Her reasoning is logical: it is not at all evident why they should be better off than blacks, and that is the only part of a white person’s body or life she has not seen. The fact that so many blacks have at least some white ancestry serves to highlight how arbitrary a distinction race really is.

The Evil of Disunity Among Blacks in the Face of White Oppression

When blacks refuse to band together to improve their situation, improvement becomes difficult if not impossible. Throughout Coming of Age, Anne is repeatedly frustrated by how willing blacks are to accept injustice. This includes her family, as well as numerous other blacks who work to perpetuate racial inequalities despite being black themselves. Anne is also shocked by the fact that lighter-skinned blacks try to give themselves a social distinction relative to darker-skinned blacks. They all share a common oppression at the hands of whites.

The Destructive Power of Prejudice

One of the most important themes of Coming of Age in Mississippi is the destructive power of prejudice. There is the prejudice of whites against blacks, and also the prejudice of lighter-skinned blacks toward darker-skinned blacks, and of people with money against poorer people. Anne experiences each kind of prejudice, which causes her great pain. In fact, being the victim of prejudice tends to prejudice Anne herself against whites and lighter-skinned blacks. Her prejudice is demonstrated by the fact that she nearly refuses to attend Tougaloo College, the place where she joins the civil rights movement, because she fears that it has too many light-skinned black students. She also distrusts her professors because they are white, and the Reverend Edward King, who is, worse yet, a southern white. Finally, after meeting lighter-skinned blacks and whites who do not look down on her, Anne accepts that not all members of these groups are untrustworthy. However, prejudice nearly costs her important opportunities in her life, and makes her a suspicious and pessimistic person.