An Indian teenage girl’s take on the story of a ‘Yankee Girl’

Ideas of equality, justice, patriarchy and exploitation were conveyed to me when I read about 11-years old Alice living in Mississippi in 1964

An Indian teenage girl’s take on the story of a ‘Yankee Girl’
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Swagata Shrivastava

Since the beginning we have all been fighting for equality and justice. Even now, we are fighting for the minorities to get them equal rights and provide them justice. This explains to us that equality is not just a right but a feeling of companionship and freedom. This idea of equality and justice was conveyed to me in the book ‘Yankee Girl’ written by Mary Ann Rodman. It follows the story of Alice Ann Moxley, an eleven year old girl and how she is stuck between the ‘Right Thing’ to do and the ‘Wrong Thing’ to do in the year 1964 in Mississippi.

During the 1950s, Martin Luther King and his many disciples and followers had led the Civil Rights Movement to abolish racism and provide justice to Blacks or the Negroes of America. At the time, the southern part of USA was more hostile to this movement than the North. In 1964, when some Mississippi schools decided to integrate with the Black schools, a lot of conservative Whites were against this integration and decided to attack and terrorise the Blacks. The author, Mary Ann Rodman, has also provided an imagery of how Blacks lived in separate areas and also how the buses were only meant for the travel of Black maids who served the Whites.

The protagonist, Alice's father is an FBI agent due to which her family had to transfer here and there. When she comes to Mississippi, she found it extremely hard to secure a place for herself. In the new school (Parnell School), she is known by the title Yankee Girl. Yankee refers to the people of the North who support the Blacks. She befriends a black girl, Valerie Taylor, whose father, Reverend Taylor, worked as the bodyguard of Martin Luther King. The story tells how Alice gets stuck between supporting her Black friend Valerie and also at the same time, trying to detach the title of Yankee Girl from herself.

While reading this story, I was constantly reminded of how women are victims of patriarchy and gender prejudices in our society. The historical background of the novel Yankee Girl is pertinently relevant today when we experience a growing apathy and hatred towards the poor, marginalised and dispossesed workers in our society. In the recent wake of the lockdown against Corona virus we see the sordid plight of the labourers who are stranded on the roads even in the capital city of India while the rest of the society is privileged and the governments are sleeping on their insensible and deaf ears.One wonders how such a callous and inhuman attitude can even prevail in the 21st Century.

The story of Yankee Girl is very insightful and universal and although it is fiction but it tells of a burning reality and some of the experiences of the author when she herself was in Mississippi. The story does have a happy ending to it in which Alice stands for her Black friends and accepts the title of Yankee Girl.

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