The Beautiful Struggle Summary and Study Guide

Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Beautiful Struggle

  • 31-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 8 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a dual degrees from Yale
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The Beautiful Struggle Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 31-page guide for “The Beautiful Struggle” by Ta-Nehisi Coates includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 8 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Everyday Life as Myth and Black Culture as Liberation.

Plot Summary

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle, published in 2009, is the writer’s memoir of his childhood and early teenage years. It is a true bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, but it also is a character study of Coates’s father, and secondarily, of his brother Big Bill. The book profiles Coates’s experiences growing up in various Baltimore neighborhoods with a family always somewhat in flux, attending different schools as he matures into early adulthood.

Coates’s first two chapters cover his time living in Tioga Parkway, still in elementary school and coming up against early realizations about the “Knowledge” (14) learned on the streets and the culture of violence he comes to expect as he walks home from school. His brother Big Bill and his father, “Conscious Man” (12), are introduced in these chapters, with Coates providing broad-strokes profiles of each of them: Big Bill as the “deputy patriarch” (53) of their father, committed to the Knowledge and successful in its teaching; his father as the strictest of patriarchs, enforcing intense rules built on his radical political views. Coates describes himself as a spacey kid uninterested in neither his father’s “Consciousness”(107) nor his brother’s Knowledge.

Chapter 3 is largely dedicated to Coates’s father’s personal history: his time in the army, his transition into the Black Panthers, the story of how he met Coates’s mother, and the origins of his basement publishing house dedicated to black literature. Coates’s story continues into Chapter 4, as he describes Big Bill’s and his descent into a rap-music obsession, as well as the culture of basketball that forces its way into their lives. By the end of the chapter, Big Bill is struggling with early adulthood while Coates is becoming ever more Conscious. Coates gets into Baltimore Polytech, the magnet school he had set his sights on and the first step toward Mecca, i.e., Howard University, “the way out” (26).

Chapters 5 and 6 cover Big Bill’s failures at Mecca and Coates’s failures at Polytech. After Coates is kicked out, his father enrolls him in camp at NationHouse, a black cultural center in Washington, D.C. By this point, the family has moved to a house in the suburbs; this seems counter to his father’s ethos, which Coates points out to his dad, who responds with a desire to get out of the intense circumstances he has lived in all his life.

By Chapters 7 and 8, Coates is edging into adulthood and out of his family’s influence. He graduates with an acceptance to Morgan State University, and with the help of his mother’s persistence, eventually gets into Mecca, where his parents force him to go. He is in love with the djembe, a handmade West African drum, and is fully inculcated into his father’s Consciousness. Meanwhile, Big Bill eventually starts to improve his academics at Howard. The book ends with Coates heading off to college. He leaves the reader with an image of a Fourth of July barbeque, his father’s strictness slightly loosened, as his younger brother Menelik plays with a water gun. With the crack era of the 80s and its proliferation of guns now over, Menelik has a different future ahead of him.

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Chapters 1-2