Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

by

James Weldon Johnson

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A black sewing-girl either employed or enslaved by the prominent Georgia family that includes the narrator’s father. After moving to Connecticut with the narrator to ensure that he can get a quality education, she sews around the clock to pay the family’s bills and plays the narrator songs at night, sparking his interest in music. Even though the narrator’s father sent her North in secret, and with little support, she nevertheless shows nothing but goodwill when she tells the narrator stories about him. Her loving, supportive relationship with the narrator is tragically cut short when she falls sick and dies shortly after he graduates high school in the third chapter.

The Narrator’s Mother Quotes in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator’s Mother or refer to The Narrator’s Mother. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Tell me, mother, am I a nigger?”

Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Father, father,” that was the word which had been to me a source of doubt and perplexity ever since the interview with my mother on the subject. […] And here he stood before me, just the kind of looking father I had wishfully pictured him to be; but I made no advance toward him; I stood there feeling embarrassed and foolish, not knowing what to say or do. I am not sure but that he felt pretty much the same.

Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

In none of her talks did she ever utter one word of complaint against my father. She always endeavored to impress upon me how good he had been and still was, and that he was all to us that custom and the law would allow. She loved him; more, she worshiped him, and she died firmly believing that he loved her more than any other woman in the world. Perhaps she was right. Who knows?

Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Narrator’s Mother Character Timeline in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator’s Mother appears in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
There were also various people in the house, but the narrator only remembers his mother and “a tall man with a small, dark mustache,” shiny shoes, and gold jewelry, which... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
After getting the coin, the narrator and his mother “started on what seemed to me like an endless journey”—by train to Savannah, then by... (full context)
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
His mother sewed endlessly, and sometimes women visited to help—she likely made a decent salary, for she... (full context)
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
The narrator began teaching himself to play the piano and could play all his mother ’s songs by age seven. Some of his mother’s sewing companions convinced her to send... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
...throwing stones at the black boys while they ran. Later, he went home to tell his mother what “one of the ‘niggers’” had done. She told him never to use “that word,”... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...time, gazing at his eyes and hair in the mirror. He ran downstairs and asked his mother , “tell me, mother, am I a nigger?” Her eyes filled with tears, and the... (full context)
Chapter 2
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...found less impressive at the end. He decided to “explore” all the other books in his mother ’s cabinet; he never knew how she got them, but she had probably read most... (full context)
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...using the pedals to create a “sympathetic, singing” song—all because he first began by copying his mother ’s songs. His mannerisms were those of “great performers,” and came naturally when he put... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...his tracks when he saw “a black derby hat” on his peg of the rack. His mother said someone was there to see him, and he turned out to be “a tall,... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
The narrator had always wondered who and where his father was, and especially why his mother refused to talk about him. And now, he was here—but neither of them had any... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
The narrator’s mother asked the narrator to play a song for his father, which he did “in a... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...stay hidden. He was late to rehearsal and made up a lie to explain himself: his mother was sick, and would not “be with us very long,” which the music teacher saw... (full context)
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...love,” which is at its most pure and marvelous in boyhood. He returned home to his mother sitting in her rocking chair and singing, as usual. She told him that his father,... (full context)
Chapter 3
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
Growing older, the narrator began to wonder where he and his mother fit into the world—his history books were too broad, and newspapers “did not enlighten” him.... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
The narrator felt he could finally talk to his mother about it all, so she started telling him fascinating stories from her “old folks” and... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...a world of imagination” and almost never doing outdoor exercise, although his health was fine. His mother ’s, however, was not, although “she kept her spirits up” and continued to sew to... (full context)
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
After the narrator graduated high school, his mother was so sick that she could not leave bed or work; she knew she was... (full context)
Chapter 9
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
Secrecy, Purity, and Origins Theme Icon
...years before.” The girl was his sister—he felt all the love he had lost since his mother died, and during the second act “the desolate loneliness of [his] position became clear,” for... (full context)
Racism and the Color Line Theme Icon
Collective Progress and Individual Achievement Theme Icon
Music, Emotion, and American Culture Theme Icon
...coldly,” and just like that he lost his “best friend” and “greatest influence” ever, besides his mother . He set out for Liverpool and then for Boston. (full context)