Coming of Age in Mississippi Essay
Coming of Age in Mississippi
“No one’s life is a smooth sail; we all come into stormy weather.” This statement has more truth to it than one may think. In life, everybody reaches a rough point, a point where the light at the end of the tunnel seems dim, or even nonexistent. But overcoming this adversity is what builds character. Accepting and prevailing over life’s obstacles are what separate strong, independent-minded and forward-thinking people from those who give up and avoid their problems. Anne Moody, author of Coming of Age in Mississippi, lived a life of great struggle in which she overcame adversity with great efforts and a dedicated heart and mind.
As an African-American female, Anne Moody had one of the hardest battles to fight throughout her life. With limited rights as a woman and even further limitations due to race, she often found herself being subordinated by others. While in high school, she left her hometown of Centreville, Mississippi to spend the summer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While there, she worked for a local woman, Mrs. Jetson, doing housework. After working for Mrs. Jetson for two weeks, Anne wished to collect her pay. When Anne found Mrs. Jetson’s house empty, she recalled “On Monday I did call the shoe store, and was told Mrs. Jetson had quit on Friday. I had never before felt so gypped in all my life.
Out of all the women I had worked for this woman was the worst” (Moody 150). Anne had been cheated out of two weeks’ worth of pay. She was astonished at Mrs. Jetson’s audacity in failing to pay Anne what was rightfully hers. It was difficult to find jobs where she was treated with some dignity, and almost impossible to find ones where she was treated as her employer’s equal. Anne was forced to change jobs frequently on account of being disrespected and used. Although no scamming experience was as impactful on Anne as the one with Mrs. Jetson, Anne experienced similar situations in jobs she had prior and jobs she took afterward.
The summer after being in Baton Rouge, Anne went back to Louisiana; this time she stayed in New Orleans. There, she managed to land a job in a chicken factory. What she expected to be a large, intricate, and somewhat clean workplace turned out to be a dreadful nightmare. To her shock, she found herself gutting freshly killed chickens for over ten hours a day without gloves or proper sanitation whatsoever. Near the end of the day, Anne recollected her “face, arms, and clothes were splattered with blood and chicken shit. I got so disgusted at one point that I stood there and let about a dozen chickens half full of shit pass me by” (Moody 178). Along with the other factory workers, Anne is treated with the utmost disregard to dignity and sanitation.
She is forced to work excruciatingly long hours for minimum wage, exposed to grotesque dead animals and susceptible to disease. Unfortunately, because the pay was better than most other jobs in the area, Anne was forced to stick with her factory work. She worked in the factory for a month, saving her money and gaining exposure to the various stations in the factory. Although she did make very good money under the circumstances, she was deeply affected by her work; for years she could not eat chicken and for the rest of her life she refused to eat boxed chicken. The challenge of going to work every morning knowing what she was going to endure was tough, but her willpower and need for money helped her push through.
After high school, Anne applied to and attended Natchez College in Mississippi. During her second year, she was eating in the cafeteria on campus when she and a few other classmates found maggots in their food. Disgusted, she and her classmates stormed into the kitchen to find an explanation for the repulsive experience. She “knew exactly where the grits were kept from the time I had worked in the kitchen. I went straight to the pantry and saw that there was a big leak from the showers upstairs. The water was seeping right down onto the shelves” (Moody 256). Anne and her classmates boycotted the campus cafeteria and its food, refusing to yield until some sanitary fixes were implemented. The challenge here was finding other ways to stay fed.
The students did not have enough money to last them more than a week or so, so eventually they all started back, one by one, to the cafeteria and its semi-sanitary food. Still repulsed, Anne refused to go back and began losing a lot of weight. She became so thin and hungry all the time that she resorted to writing her mother who brought her enough canned food to last the remainder of the semester. The challenge in staying fed with healthy, sanitary food was one which presented itself on a large scale for Anne at college and otherwise. Had she been unable to obtain food from her family, she may have starved to the point of fainting or even death. Overcoming this challenge was just about a matter of life or death for Anne.
One of Anne’s most prominent memories and experiences in her early life was during her college career when she participated in a sit-in in Woolworth. The idea of the sit-in was to sit calmly at a white lunch counter and ask for service; thus, blacks wanted to show they wished to be treated equally. Of course, doing such a thing drew a lot of attention in very little time, and soon after the sit-in began a large crowd formed in the restaurant. After the crowd of whites realized Anne and her fellow sit-in participants would not budge until they received service, “the mob started smearing us [sit-in participants] with ketchup, mustard, sugar, pies, and everything on the counter.
Soon Joan and I were joined by John Salter, but the moment he sat down he was hit on the jaw with what appeared to be brass knuckles. Blood gushed from his face and someone threw salt into the open wound” (Moody 291). The violence that occurred at the sit-in that Anne and her friends had to endure is almost unimaginable. The absolute disrespect, degradation, and cruelty shown to blacks by whites is virtually unbelievable, yet Anne was faced with challenges like these almost every day. Amazingly, Anne was courageous, intelligent, and controlled enough not to fight back and to remain nonviolent no matter what violence was shown to her. Her ability to not fight fire with fire is remarkable, and helped her to overcome the adversity which she so often found herself facing.