Monday, April 21, 2008
While reading Coming of Age in Mississippi, I have been intrigued by the differences between Essie Mae and her mother. By the time Essie is finishing high school, she makes a clean break from her home life by moving out; what was once an environment of support has become intolerable. I think it is interesting how this shift occurs as Essie becomes more and more aware of her surroundings. As a small child Essie sees her mother as a protector, for she is the only means of support for the family for several years. During this part of the book, Essie portrays her mother as a hard worker who does the best she can for her family. Of course, as Essie becomes older, she and her mother seem to be in constant conflict. Essie is curious and outspoken, and always tries to gather information about the events around her even if they are taboo issues like her white cousins or hate crimes that occur in Centerville. Her mother, on the other hand, demands that she remains silent about these things and stops asking questions, fearing the consequences of being outspoken. These two attitudes demonstrate a major divide between the two generations. Essie’s mother, of the older generation, lives with a stronger memory of the structures of slavery. Living as a sharecropper working on a rich white man’s plantation may “officially” be considered freedom, but the same paternalistic structures of slavery govern this lifestyle. I imagine this memory would inhibit a rebellious spirit right away. And although Essie does remember living on the plantation, by the time she is old enough to realize the injustice around her she is no longer engulfed in that hurtful structure. Here, the younger generation prevails. Essie has the optimism and education to feel like she can do something more. She also has the courage to inform herself about injustices she sees, and questions things that are wrong. I feel that this is a huge distinction from her mother, who is afraid to even speak about the violence that goes on in Centerville. It is also a natural progression from one generation to the other. I am sure we have all had a disagreement with a parent or adult, because we can see things in new ways while they are stuck in an outdated mindset. What is accepted as right for one generation will inevitable change with time. But this type of positive change begins by questioning what we are told and looking at the world around us with a fresh perspective. As society changes we must constantly re-evaluate ourselves to make sure we are doing the right thing. Essie begins this process by simply wondering why injustice exists instead of accepting her situation. As we read her story, we can see how far a questioning mind can take us. Our current war, oil dependency, and environmental crisis could be improved if enough people rethink what is really appropriate in the world today. As innovative thought leads to action, we can work to improve our situation as Essie worked to improve hers.
Posted by Christina Decker at 10:11 AM