Over the course of Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba transitions from a normal teenage girl to a hardened warrior. When she starts school at Central High School, she has no idea of the hardships she will face. With Grandma India’s help, Melba learns to give up all of the things that other teenagers care about—friends, free time, boyfriends and girlfriends, and extracurricular activities—and instead focuses on the larger issue of integration. Melba quickly learns that she will not have a normal high school experience. What she will have is the knowledge that she has fought on the right side, and that she has, according to Grandma India, fought God’s fight.

By the end of her time at Central, Melba has given up on friends and has broken up with her boyfriend, Vince. She has a single purpose: to survive to the end of the year, and to prove to the segregationists that she can’t be beaten. When Melba is at Central, she has to assume an almost superhuman demeanor. When people slap her or spit on her, she learns to say “thank you” and not fight back. The religion Melba relies on so heavily makes her seem even more saintlike, which alienates many people who want to be friends with her. But by the end of her year at Central, it is quite clear that Melba is an entirely different person than the pretty young girl who started there. She has replaced her innocence with a sense of purpose. This experience is why she eventually goes into journalism: she feels that were it not for the attention of the press, she would never have been admitted to Central High School. She sees her work as a journalist as an extension of that fight. Because of her experience at Central, the adult Melba finds she can’t back away from a fight.