Men We Reaped
By Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury Press, 2013
Jesmyn Ward’s debut memoir, Men We Reaped, about growing up in DeLisle, Mississippi, a low income coastal Mississippi town, and the deaths of five young men (between the ages of 19 and 32) she grew up with, provides a unique look at inequality in the United States.
Ward’s family has been in DeLisle since the early 20th century. She begins her story with the history of her grandparents, and great-grandparents, and how her parents met. She continues to chronologically tell her own coming-of-age story in this small rural community in a state where 23% of the population, and 35% of Blacks, live below the poverty line. She then intersperses her life story with the stories of five young men, including her younger brother, who died between 2000 and 2004. As she tells their stories, Ward explores the extent to which their deaths were caused by the entrenched gender and race roles of the region, and by the histories of their families in which Black men die young and the women work too hard and take care of their families.
This is a moving, yet sad, story and Ward is a poetic and emotional writer. She is the one who got out of her community and yet she has not left it behind. She wants to tell its story and after living in California, Michigan and New York she now lives in Mississippi again. I was moved by this paragraph in which she describes the pressures on her community:
“My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust out fathers to raise us, to provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless. Some of us turned sour from the pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, without and within. And to blunt it all, some of us turned to drugs.” (p. 169)
I borrowed this book from a friend.