Monday, April 21, 2008

Two Generations

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we have all had a disagreement with a parent or adult, because we can see things in new ways while they are stuck in an outdated mindset.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.


joseph mokhtari fox said...

i was noticing this different point of view as well, i kept wondering if essie mays mother didnt question these things because i feel that if i were in her situation and my daughter asked me these sorts of things i would either have my own interpretation of the racial situation or at least be forced to then think about it but she seems more interested in pushing it to the back of her mind. i think this is a great analysis and it seems accurate for this time where the two different generations have very different yet still similar circumstances

awolf said...

I also noticed the differences between Essie and her mother. It really bothered me throughout the text that Essie’s mother would not answer her questions. Essie’s questions were extremely important and she wasn’t asking them to hurt anyone’s feelings or to pry into things that weren’t any of her business, she was asking them so she could understand what is going on in her life. In my own life my parents have always taught my sisters and I to ask questions because asking questions allows you to understand the world around you. If you don’t ask you don’t learn. I think that Essie’s mother did not want Essie to ask questions because their life was not always pleasant and her mother did not want to think about everything negative and difficult In her own life. Asking questions can be dangerous because the answers are not always pleasant and sometimes there are no answers at all. Additionally I agree that her mother had the slave mentality about her and that is why she did not want to answer questions and she got so angry when questions were asked. Furthermore, I also feel that the conflict came from a generation gap. Another reason I feel the mother and daughter were in conflict so much is that I think Essie was tired of seeing her mother get hurt over and over again and being around her mother who did not stand up for herself really upset Essiie. Instead of confronting the problem she lashed out at her mother.

Sunniva Finney said...

I also found this contrast extremely prevalent. While delving deeper into the relationship conflict with Essie Mae and her mother I found that I was able to relate on a personal level. My grandmother's ignorance was definitely my bliss. My grandmother came to America in the late fifties, traveling from Norway with my six month old infant mother. While living with her for my final high school years, her miseducation led us both into many arguments. Her reference to Natives as savages, for example, bothered me. I questioned her opinion; pointing out that indigenous peoples were in fact no where near savage, as they, had organized societies and religion. My grandmother failed to see my point, so I decided to turn the tables once again. If indigenous people (or the 'Indians' as my grandmother loves to call them) are considered savage, what is stopping her from defining the viking civilization from savagery? After this, the argument became completely irrational on her side. Point being, generational gaps make a huge difference in societal expectations and connotations. With further education, less fear is involved-- as you can see with the example of Essie Mae. Essie was thirsting for knowledge that her mother is literally unable to give her, Essie is growing up without the first hand brutal conditions of slavery. While she is not much better off, at least she is not raised living in constant fear of strenuous labor, violence, or death. This in itself inspires the desire for change, and the optimism for a better life.

I have optimism, I hope to make a change. What do you hope to do with your education? Or miseducation? Everything needs to be questioned. This is another thing I learned from the flaws of my grandmother; open minds and tolerance are essential to the proper future of our nation.

Mari said...

I agree with everyone elses blog comments because i believe everyone should have the right to know were they are coming from and there family background. The presenter mentioned how when essie was still a kid her mother and herslef would always be spending bonding time, and now that she has grown up they tend to argue a lot. I believe tha this drastic change happens for a reason i feel as if the mother would answer the questions essie her child has these things would not be going on today. Every child i believe has the right to know what has gon on in there lives and the reason why the mother does not want to answer the questions she has. Essie might be going through her little stage in which she questiona everything and were she would like to know as much as possible. so i believe that the mother has a lot at fault because she is not telling Essie the information she would like to know

ylimeucsc said...

I found that section of the Moody book really interesting too because I think it is so representational of that time in everyone’s life. I could relate so much to what Anne was saying because this was the first year out of the house for me, and through the last year I have been introduced to many ideas that many of those in my family have not.
It is difficult to feel like you are more informed than a parent or trusted adult in your life, and can cause feelings of frustration as you try to form your identity for this generation in contrast to that of the generation before.
Anne’s mother was never taught to think beyond her situation, and the overlying causes which could be contributing. I think that is what higher education is aimed at; thinking beyond your personal situation and being able to put your life into context on a broader scale.