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Coming of Age of Mississippi

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According to a 2008 Gallup poll, most African Americans residing in America strongly believe racism is still a major factor embedded in their lives. Racism is defined as prejudice or discrimination directed against individuals of a different race based on such a belief. Though racism is not extinct and plays a role in today’s society, it was much more severe and widely accepted during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Anne Moody’s book, Coming of Age in Mississippi, and Tate Taylor’s film, The Help, based on the book written by Kathryn Stockett’s, are both novels that expose the severity of racism and prejudice during the Civil Rights Movement. Though both novels take place during the same time period, they differ in numerous ways. Through different approaches, Coming of Age in Mississippi and The Help both give insight to the many problems associated with racism during the period of the Civil Rights Movement.

There are many similarities that tie together The Help and Coming of Age in Mississippi. The most prominent and significant similarity of both novels is the idea of racism. Entwined throughout the books, the theme of racism is the backbone, which reflects the hardships African Americans experienced throughout the 1960’s. In the novel, Coming of Age in Mississippi, the main character, Anne, and her family, are African Americans. Along with the other “black” plantation workers, her and her family live in shacks without electricity or indoor plumbing.

On the contrary, the “white” family’s houses have electricity and indoor plumbing. This is overbearing discrimination as the black families work unbelievably hard on the plantation just to live unsanitary while the white families live comfortably through them. In the novel The Help, the main character, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, asks different black maids, referred to as the “help”, domestic questions. She discovers her friend’s attitudes about the “help” and her friend, Hilly Holbrook, made something for her home called a “Home Help Sanitation Initiative”. This initiative is for separate bathrooms for black maids because they carry different diseases. Hilly’s thoughts reflect extremely racial judgments. Treating the African Americans as though they are not people, she often depicts them as dogs or wild animals that are bringing diseases and infections into her house. Both novels involve the public having an opinion that African Americans were genetically inferior to whites.

Throughout the two novels, The Help and Coming of Age in Mississippi, there is a prominent theme of standing up and fighting for your individual rights. In the Coming of Age in Mississippi, the main character Anne strongly stands up for racial equality. Staying strong as an activist, Anne joins the NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and CORE, Coalition for the Organization of Racial Equality. In spite her strong efforts to overcome the racial opinion throughout the 1960’s, Anne’s parents, especially her mother, protest racism, as well. In the novel, the sheriff told Anne’s mother that if Anne participated in the NAACP events, it could bring harm to the family. Anne’s influential actions, regardless of everyone telling her not to participate, indicate her strong passion and persistence to diminish discrimination.

Throughout the novel The Help, the main character Skeeter also proudly stands up to protect African American’s equality. The public opinion of Caucasians being superior to African Americans does not affect Skeeter or influence her decisions. In fact, after attending college she is the only individual in proximity to her friends and family with a different attitude towards racism. Skeeter explains, “I was raised by a colored woman. We love them and they love us – but they can’t even use the toilets in our houses.” Skeeter was raised by a colored woman; therefore she strongly believes there is not a difference between different tints of skin colors. For this reason, she publishes a novel to expose the harshness of discrimination in hopes to make a difference in the inequality between races.

Throughout the novels, the theme of women empowerment and the strength to which they can accomplish goals is a prominent theme and important aspect. The main characters of both novels, Anne and Skeeter, are women. Anne accomplishes her goals despite race and gender. Some of her accomplishments include receiving an education at Natchez College and Tougaloo College, working menial jobs for money, and joining many organizations and events, such as NAACP, CORE, and Sit-ins. Despite public opinion, Anne accomplishments contribute and fuel Anne’s lifelong meaning. Anne elaborates, “It no longer seemed important to prove anything. I had found something outside myself that gave meaning to life.”

To Anne, the only thing that mattered and brought enlightenment to her life was the big picture of making a difference. With the assistance and aid of other important society members, Skeeter also accomplishes her goals successfully. Though she is not African American, Skeeter is a strong woman due to her ambition to tell the truth in a racist world. Challenged, she had to gain the trust and respect of the maids in order to tell her opinion. Because the maids Aibileen and Minnie had to share information, despite the possible consequences of the public, they are also examples of the powerful roles women can accomplish. Through both novels, women have an imperious impact on society and exemplify the influential roles women are capable of embodying.

Although representing many similar themes and struggles, The Help and Coming of Age in Mississippi, have many differences. The age of the characters throughout the novel reveal differences, though the theme of collective maturity throughout the novels exists. In Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne starts out as a very young child that matures and embodies an exemplified woman. Her growing and maturation is symbolic of the maturation of the Civil Rights Movement. As her and her thoughts grow and mature, the Civil Rights Movement and the public’s opinion throughout this time also mature. In The Help, Skeeter does not start out as a child, but, a young woman that just graduated college.

Obtaining a strong opinion of equality, her role is prominent in helping expose the problems of African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement throughout her novel. As Skeeter grows and matures, the novel does as well. In turn, exposure of discrimination and racism mature. The color of skin between the two main characters also differs. Anne grows up experiencing racism, discrimination, and prejudice first hand primarily. She is the one being discriminated against and has to deal with a white ruling society. On the other hand, Skeeter experiences the effects of the civil rights movement secondary. She realizes the issues of racism surrounding her, educates herself, and hears stories from maids, but she did not have to experience the harsh realities of racism. Because of this difference, the two novels are expressed from two primarily different perspectives.

A reoccurring difference expressed in the two novels is the prejudice towards the different races. It is extremely relevant in both novels that there is prejudice of whites against blacks, but, Coming of Age in Mississippi exemplifies other types of prejudice. In The Help there is mainly prejudice against whites and blacks, while the African Americans discussed are “dark” skinned. In Coming of Age in Mississippi there is also prejudice against lighter skinned blacks, darker skinned blacks, and also wealthy towards the poor. Anne experiences each type of prejudice which angers her and drives her to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Anne exemplifies, “They were Negroes and we were also Negroes. I just didn’t see Negroes hating each other so much.” Anne refers to the light skinned Raymond family who looks down upon Anne and her family. Anne is partially confused that lighter-skinned black people could possibly diminish black people because she views them as the same. To Anne, African Americans are black people, no matter how light or dark the individual may be. But, during this time, lighter-skinned African Americans obtained a higher social status than dark skinned people. Associated similarly, individuals with a higher level of wealth also had a higher social status than poor people. Skin color prejudice plays a significant role in Coming of Age in Mississippi and The Help.

The environment in which the main characters, Anne and Skeeter, grow up and reside in is another important and overwhelming difference between the two novels. In Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne grows up on a plantation. Working long, harsh hours and pursuing hard labor in order to survive, her family’s life on the plantation is not favorable. The amount of food is vaguely scarce and Anne’s family has to do what they can in order to survive. Some days the family would eat only bread and beans. The shacks the African Americans live in on the plantations are unsanitary and have no electricity or indoor plumbing. In The Help, Skeeter is not faced with such extremities. Though Skeeter did grow up on a plantation, she experiences a more equipped life with fewer hardships. Having electricity and the simple luxury of using an inside toilet, she was able to eat well and not live day by day wondering if she would survive.

Though Skeeter did have black maids, she expresses love and compassion for the women because of the public’s opinions and social attitudes. Even though Skeeter is Caucasian, grows up in bearable conditions, and has a vast amount of experience with white people’s opinions, she helps aid African Americans as well as expresses her sympathy towards them. At the time, it was not looked upon even for African Americans to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement, but Skeeter is not black, but she had a strong will to help end racism. Anne and Skeeter were both raised in different environments with extremely different living conditions, but ended up with very similar goals.

Coming of Age in Mississippi and The Help capture the attitudes of society during the Civil Rights Movement and the problems numerous African Americans had to face. Similar themes are captured in each novel, such as racism and prejudice gave example to the overall opinions of society that whites are superior to blacks. Differences in the skin color of Anne and Skeeter provides viewpoints from both sides of the social scale. Even with differences, Anne and Skeeter achieve a common goal to have a role in the Civil Rights Movement. Overall, the novels Coming of Age in Mississippi and The Help have many similarities and differences, but, expose the treatment of African Americans during the harsh times of prejudice, racism, and violent living conditions throughout the 1960’s.

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