I think that the High-School section of Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi is the most essential in understanding her life and reasons for writing the book. Many would argue that the Movement section stands as the most essential part considering the massively historical element to the novel, but those people could also potentially say that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s greatest understanding came from his speeches at Washington and other places. However, I’m one to believe that past experience generally acts as the motivation that shape a person’s actions later on in their life. In that right, Moody’s account of her experiences during her high school years stand out.
The section detailed a time where she was starting to both realize her surroundings as well as what she wanted to do with her life. As the racial prejudice and tensions built around her, you begin to see her feelings expressed in these chapters. It begins rather darkly with the event of Emmett Till’s murder for whistling at a white woman. In reaction to that, Anne begins her quest for answers that, in my opinion, drives her throughout the book all the way to its close – where she still hasn’t found an answer, “I wonder. I really wonder” (424). Her mother shoots Moody down a lot, too, by means of protection, I feel. “Eddie them better watch how they go around her talking. These whit folks git a hold of it they gonna be in trouble” (130). Anne’s mother says that at the end of their discussion about the Till murder, and I view this as largely encompassing of her mother’s belief that white people are all out there waiting to snatch up any black person or child that does anything that isn’t to their white liking. This is an odd role model to have as a child, and I think Anne Moody realizes it in this section that she has to get out or surrender if she ever wants to be her own person.
Anne Moody also first finds out about the NAACP in this section, when she stumbles upon Mrs. Burke and her friends speaking in rather “conspiratory” tones. This sparks her interest and she asks her teacher, Mrs. Rice, for an explanation. Their conversation, I feel, sparks Anne’s desire to join the organization. “Mrs. Rice got to be somewhat of a mother to me. She told me anything I wanted to know” (135). She goes on to talk about the shamelessness of both races and paints a picture of what seems like a “southern hell”. She talks about her disgust with white men that sexually pray on their black maids and get away with it, but that a black man who as much as whistles at a white woman is killed. This High-School section is also the point where Anne decides to work a bunch of different jobs and move around during the summers to her various relatives. In my view, these moves and jobs demonstrate, respectively, her diverse influence and work ethic that also propels the rest of her journey in the south. Moody realizes that amidst racial tensions, there are also tensions of class, illustrated best in the scene where she works at a chicken packing plant. “I worked at the chicken factory for about a month. Within that time I saw the entire place… I couldn’t think of eating chicken for years after” (181). In those chapters, she gets a position only because the people who already work there are striking for more pay. Moody feels like a “traitor” but has to do what’s necessary for money; commenting on the violence of the strikes outside the plant and how they were dark-skinned just as she was.
She is also exposed to homosexuals for the first time in this section of the novel. “I couldn’t wait until I got outside to ask Winnies about Lola and Lily White and the others” (189). Lola and Lily White are gay men who dress like women and work in Winnie’s restaurant. Winnie explains it as “this place is filled with ‘em”, but moves casually on as if to say it isn’t a big deal and that, in my view, she concludes with acceptance. In short, Moody graduates from high school and is reunited with her mother, and this section rises above the others as an understanding of the author’s life and character. You can’t deny that she was shaped by the climactic racial tension seen in Emmett Till’s murder, the discovery of the NAACP, class issues being placed on top of racial ones, and her discovery of homosexual people leads to her more well-rounded, rather jaded character at the end of the book and truly begins her quest for answers that drives the memoir.