“When I Was a Child” by Lillian Smith Analysis

Lillian Smith’s memoir When I Was a Child is a very moving piece that contrasts one’s true feelings and the reality outside of it. Smith gave her reader a white person’s view in a segregated community. In the beginning of the memoir, Lillian Smith purposefully and significantly discussed her cultural and familial influences when she was a child. It is apparent that her parents reared her to be unbiased, religious, and compassionate. Despite her family’s lack of financial trouble, her parents enforced the love of God and not the love of money. Also, Smith’s father explains to her that despite her heritage concerning slavery, they should push “straight in the future” (820). The Smith family seemed to have a modern mindset that went against what most of their neighbors believed in and did. However, reality “kicked in”. One significant sentence that the author stated was, “But I knew, though I said it firmly, that something was wrong. I knew my father and mother whom I passionately admired had done that which did not fit in with their teachings. I knew they had betrayed something which they held dear” (824). This quote shows the contradiction between her family’s beliefs and what they were required to do during that time. The significance of this entire passage is that deep down inside, Lillian Smith, even as a child, knew that her current conditions living in the segregated South was not right, and the consequences were unfair: not only to her losing a friend, but to her friend losing respect because of her ethnicity. Smith realized that her friend Janie was only accepted in her neighborhood and home because she appeared white, not because she was a child in need of a better home and better living conditions. This memoir shows why she became a civil rights activist.

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One thought on ““When I Was a Child” by Lillian Smith Analysis

  1. I like how you note that Smith’s family had a modern view on racism, and did not want to have the same values as their neighbors. But that they eventually had to give in to the pressures of those around them. I agree that Smith lost a great deal because of the racism in her community.

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