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Challenges of Young Adulthood in Coming of Age in Mississippi

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Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, Growing Up, by Russell Baker, and Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody all speak to the challenges of young adulthood and each document an attempt to attain the American dream. These three books discuss economic stability, coming of age, and education.

All three of the books that we read as a class this semester speak to the challenges of economic stability in the early to mid- 20th century. In Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska, a young Jewish immigrant named Sara Smolinsky is struggling to find economic stability in New York City. Sara comes from a patriarchal family where her father is pressuring her to marry and not pursue an education. She wants to be an independent woman who would like to become a teacher someday. Sara’s biggest challenge is her father, Reb Smolinsky. He puts a lot of pressure on his daughters. Reb is very religious and believes that man is the most important person in the household.

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In the 1920s, women still did not have many rights, causing distress and hardship as Sara embarks on her journey for independence. Sara looks for her an apartment to move into. She wants to move so that she can start her new life. At one point in the novel, Sara states, “This door was life. It was air. The bottom starting-point of becoming a person. I simply must have this room with the shut door” (Yezierska 158). Since Sara is getting an education, she wants a place that will be quiet so she can focus on her studies. This room represents her new independent life as well as a search for her identity. This room is the start for Sara as she tries to become a teacher and start to get out of poverty.

In addition to Sara Smolinsky’s challenges, in the book Growing Up, a young Russell Baker encounters his challenges to achieve economic stability. Russell Baker and Sara Smolinsky value education. They both believe that education is the way to receive a good job which leads to economic stability. Russell Baker grew up in the depression era like Sara Smolinsky. Russell was a white male that had the ambition to achieve the American Dream. Russell Baker grew up in a single-parent household, as his alcoholic father died when he was just five years old. His mother Ruth, believed that women serve a huge role in society. She applies this to Russell throughout the whole novel.

Russell starts working at a young age to help support his family. He begins selling newspapers, which gives him an interest in journalism, As his mother, Ruth still struggles to find work, Russell meets one of his family members that is a great storyteller. He realizes that storytelling is his passion and that is what he wants to do for the rest of his life. Russell is very smart and he enrolls in a competitive high school achieving honors. He receives a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University. Russell is already accomplished more than his parents ever did. When he turns 18, he goes to fight in World War II. He returns and meets his future wife, Mimi, who has a debouched character. Russell learns that “growing up” is part of life and it causes someone to become less-self absorbed. Throughout the whole book, he describes the many relationships that he has with people and how they helped him confront his problems. Not only did Russell Baker achieve economic stability but he says that these people helped him outgrow the weaknesses that his mother was determined to end.

Similar to Russell Baker, in the book Coming of Age in Mississippi, Anne Moody goes through challenges of her own. She faces poverty, segregated education, and racism. The book is based during the 1950s and ‘60s. This was the peak of the Civil Rights Movement which is a huge part of this book. The book starts with Anne Moody as a young child as she grows up in rural Mississippi. Her family is sharecroppers that work for a white plantation owner. Like Russell Baker, Anne Moody was raised by her mother. Anne Moody starts working at the age of nine to help support her family. Moody was still going to try to get educated. Moody’s mother remarries and they move.

At this point in the book Anne is trying to find out the difference between white and black people. While working for a white woman, Anne Moody starts discovering the racism around her. She states, “Before Emmett Till’s murder, I had known the fear of hunger, hell, and the Devil. But now there was new fear known to me—the fear of being killed just because I was black” (Moody 125-126). Anne asks her white employer, Mrs. Burke, why he was killed. Mrs. Burke responds by saying that it is because he “got out of his place” with a white woman. Moody realizes that she can be threatened with the same issue and that she is now scared of her life as well. She starts to see racism around her. She witnesses a whole family murdered when Klansmen burn their house down. She has a rough upcoming and has to experience many hardships as she is coming of age.

Anne Moody values education very dearly. One night she gets in a fight with her stepfather, causing her to move out at the age of 17. She finishes high school and gets a scholarship to Natchez College on a basketball scholarship. She also receives an academic scholarship to attend Tougaloo College. At Tougaloo, she joins many organizations and finds her passion. She joins the NAACP, SNCC, CORE, and COFO. All of these organizations are civil rights organizations. Moody also participates in many rallies and movements. She graduates college with great grades but she only wants to do one thing with her life.

She wants to fight the aggression that white people put on black people. Her ambition and coming of age cause her passion for the Civil Rights Movement. Although Moody does not achieve economic stability, she found her purpose in life and that is what she thinks the American Dream is. Even though she encounters, Moody is working for voter rights and justice. These things fuel her fire and that is all she wants to do in her life.

All three of these books tell a story of the challenges that they had to go through to get to the American Dream. At the end of each book, the authors all achieved economic stability, coming of age, and education. These books were stories on how through some of the hardest times through American history, people can still achieve the American dream even if they go through hardships.      

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