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Book Summary Becoming , by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama's memoir Becoming delivers candid reflections on the life of the first African-American first lady. Offering a window into her personal evolution, Michelle details how ambition, hard work, and embracing her authentic story helped her journey from her family’s Chicago working-class neighborhood to a 47th-floor law office, then to the White House and beyond.

Becoming provides insights into Michelle’s self-determination: She pushed herself to excel in Ivy League classrooms and achieve a prestigious career by age 26, then mustered the courage to swerve off that path in search of greater fulfillment. It details her relationship with Barack—a love story of two opposites—and their challenging quest to navigate family and political life. Through it all, we witness a woman who perpetually strives to become a better version of herself.


1-Page Summary 1-Page Book Summary of Becoming

From the time she was a small child, Michelle Obama's parents taught her the importance of speaking up and telling her own story in her authentic voice—reconciling her past, present, and future and feeling proud of it all. As first lady of the United States, Michelle passed on this advice to thousands of young people, and she hopes that by sharing her own life’s narrative, she can inspire others.

As her memoir begins, Michelle has recently left the White House after eight years as first lady from January 2009 to January 2017. Along with her husband, former President Barack Obama, and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, she has moved into a suburban home not far from the White House. For the first time in many years, Michelle finds herself alone with her thoughts in a quiet house.

Each member of the Obama family is transitioning into new chapters of their lives. Barack is exploring career opportunities for his post-Presidential years. The Obama children are entering adulthood—Malia, the older daughter, is taking a gap year before starting college at Harvard University, and Sasha will finish high school in another two years. Michelle is free from the constraints of her highly public life as first lady. Simultaneously, her duties and responsibilities as a mother have diminished.

Michelle describes the simple pleasures she can now enjoy, which she didn't have while living in the White House: She can go outside and play in the yard with her dogs without the Secret Service asking where she is going. She can open her bedroom windows and let in fresh air whenever she pleases. She can make her own cheese toast without the kitchen staff rushing in to help.

Even though a cadre of Secret Service agents is holed up in the Obamas' garage command post—and agents will accompany the family for the rest of their lives—Michelle cherishes her newfound freedom and quiet time. This is her opportunity to reflect and write her life story.

Eight themes weave through Michelle’s memoir:

1. Becoming Is an Ongoing Challenge

Michelle is a woman who is perpetually striving to become a better version of herself. Through the process of “becoming,” she learns to adapt to her changing circumstances and not get stuck holding fast to the same identity or set of beliefs. She learns to grow and change in pursuit of the person she’d like to become.

Michelle discovers that personal growth has no finish line; there’s no moment in time when she’s done evolving. “Becoming” is an ongoing process of self-creation. It requires understanding there’s always more work to be done.

Michelle’s early years didn’t allow for this kind of flexibility. As a child, she focused on doing the “right” thing to please her teachers and family. She wanted only to make a good impression and earn others’ praise and admiration: She strived for straight A’s and perfect attendance in school. She told adults she wanted to be a pediatrician when she grew up because they seemed pleased by that answer. She didn’t think about what her passions were or what she wanted from her life.

Michelle followed a precise and predetermined path of “checking off boxes” —earning top honors in elementary and high school, getting admitted to top-notch universities, climbing the corporate ladder at a high-profile law firm. She never stopped to consider whether any of it made her happy. When her free-spirited college friend died from cancer at age 26, Michelle had a wake-up call. She realized she didn’t want the life she had worked so hard to achieve. She had to muster the courage to veer off the path she'd followed for years and find her path into a more meaningful future.

Despite her mother’s objections, Michelle quit her job and took a much lower paying position in the Chicago mayor’s office. She calls this “finding the courage to swerve.” She was moving closer to living her own true story, not simply living up to others’ expectations.

Michelle learned to swerve again after Barack became an important figure in her life. His passion for working to build a better world encouraged her to seek out more fulfilling work in the nonprofit sector. She wound up holding a series of civic-minded positions that were far more enriching than her law career.

But what she loved most about Barack—his idealism and desire to help people and change the world—also challenged her vision of how her life should be. Michelle wanted a private family life like the one she grew up in—days filled with simple routines and the whole family sitting down to the dinner table every night. She knew that life with Barack meant a life in the political arena, which meant chaotic schedules, the glare of the media spotlight, and never-ending public scrutiny.

Despite Michelle’s misgivings about political life, she loved Barack, so she gave up her predetermined ideas about what her life should look like. She evolved as a partner to Barack and as a person—she campaigned for him when he ran for Senate and for two terms as President. Ultimately she became one of the most popular first ladies in American history.

Once her time in the White House ended, Michelle had to begin the process of “becoming” all over again. Leaving behind her role in politics and with two daughters nearing adulthood, it was up to Michelle to recreate herself and adapt to her new reality.

2. Striving, Hard Work, and Self-Determination

Through her parents' encouragement and her own hard work, Michelle rose above her circumstances . She grew up in South Shore, a working-class Chicago neighborhood. She, her brother, and parents shared a one-bedroom apartment that the family rented from her mother’s aunt. Her father worked for the city water department and suffered from multiple sclerosis.

Michelle studied diligently in public school and later graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She held high-powered jobs as a corporate lawyer,...

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Becoming Summary Preface: Michelle Decides to Tell Her Story (2017)

From the time she was a small child, Michelle Obama's parents taught her the importance of speaking up and telling her own story in her authentic voice— reconciling her past, present, and future and feeling proud of it all. As first lady of the United States, Michelle passed on this advice to thousands of young people, and she hopes that by sharing her own life’s narrative, she can inspire others.

Each member of the Obama family is transitioning into a new stage of their lives. Barack is exploring career opportunities for his post-Presidential years. The Obama children are entering adulthood—Malia, the older daughter, is taking a gap year before starting college at Harvard University, and Sasha will finish high school in another two years. **Michelle is free from the constraints of...

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Becoming Summary Chapters 1-2: Childhood and Family Life (1964-1976)

These chapters focus on Michelle's youth in urban Chicago, the people who made up her loving, close-knit family, and her introduction to her own natural ambition. This is young Michelle’s first stage of “becoming,” in which she learns that she can dictate much about her own future through hard work and striving.

Early Years

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born in January 1964. She grew up in Chicago in one of the poorer blocks of a racially mixed, working-class neighborhood called South Shore. Michelle's parents rented a small apartment on the second floor of a house owned by Michelle's great-aunt Robbie. Her parents slept in the single bedroom; Michelle and her older brother Craig shared the living room.

Michelle and Craig were surrounded by extended family members throughout their early years. Great-aunt Robbie and her husband lived on the first floor, and Michelle's grandparents and cousins lived only a few blocks away.

Michelle's Childhood Dreams

Young Michelle's aspirations were uncomplicated. She wanted a dog. She wanted her family to live in a house with two floors—upstairs and downstairs—and have a four-door station wagon parked in the driveway. In...

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Becoming Summary Chapters 3-5: Coming of Age (1970s)

These chapters focus on Michelle and her brother Craig as they begin to grow into adulthood, learn about life's risks and responsibilities, and come to grips with the harsh reality of racial discrimination. In these years, Michelle begins to learn that there is more than one version of Black identity—that being Black isn’t tied to a single mode of speech, thought, or action—and that it’s up to her to create who she wants to be.

Learning to Be Prepared

When Michelle was in fifth grade, she and her brother learned a hard lesson about life’s uncertainty. One of her classmates died in a house fire, a too-common tragedy in South Shore's aging buildings. Because most households didn't have smoke detectors, entire families sometimes perished.

Michelle and Craig attended the boy's funeral, and Craig, who was now a teenager, was deeply upset. He had always been a protective big brother to Michelle, but now life's risks had become more apparent. He decided his family must have an emergency plan in case of a house fire. He was especially concerned about his father, Fraser, who had little or no agility because of his multiple sclerosis.

Craig and Michelle began conducting fire...

Shortform Exercise: Who Were Your Doubters?

When Michelle told her high school counselor she'd like to apply to Princeton, the counselor told her she "wasn't Princeton material." But Michelle ignored her advice and got into Princeton anyway.

Think of a time when you voiced your ambitions, and someone responded by doubting you. Who was it, and what did they say?

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becoming michelle obama summary essay

Shortform Exercise: How Did Your Hometown Shape You?

Michelle's South Shore neighborhood shaped her in a profound way. As she says, where we come from has a strong effect on the person we become—it's a major contributor to our character.

Describe the neighborhood or region you grew up in. List two advantages and two disadvantages of growing up there.

Becoming Summary Chapters 6-7: Princeton Years (1981-1985)

These chapters focus on Michelle's undergraduate years at Princeton University, her experience as a Black woman in classrooms full of white men, and her first job working with children. These years are critical to Michelle’s “becoming”: As her skills and capabilities develop, she learns to believe in herself. She sees that even in the most daunting situations in college or in her work-study job, she can rise to meet the challenge.

A New Start at Princeton

In 1981, 17-year-old Michelle went off to Princeton, leaving behind everything she loved in Chicago, including her boyfriend of the last year. Although she knew he was a great guy and she loved him, she also knew he didn't fit into her new life.

Being in the Minority

At Princeton, Michelle experienced being in the minority for the first time. Her first few weeks at Princeton were an orientation period just for minority students, so she didn't immediately notice much disparity between herself and her peers. Princeton admitted some of the students to fill affirmative action quotas; others were student-athletes in the top tier of their sports. Some incoming freshmen were much like her—exceptional...

Becoming Summary Chapters 8-9: Law Career and Meeting Barack (1989-1990)

In these chapters, Michelle jumps forward in her narrative, skipping past her years at Harvard Law School to her job at a high-end Chicago law firm and the summer she meets Barack. Michelle begins to evolve from someone who is solely career- and achievement-focused to someone who wants to be wife and mother, and she begins to question whether her law career was the right choice.

Return to Chicago

At 25 years old, holding degrees from Harvard and Princeton, Michelle moved back to her hometown of Chicago. Her new law office was on the 47th floor of a building she had passed by many times on her way to high school. She became an upwardly mobile lawyer who worked 70 hours per week, owned a closet full of Armani suits, had a wine subscription service, and drove a Saab.

Michelle moved back into her old South Shore home, living in the upstairs apartment she was raised in. Her parents lived downstairs in the space where great-aunt Robbie, the piano teacher, lived before she died. (Robbie willed them the house.)

Michelle enjoyed visiting with her parents every day before and after work. Her brother Craig, now an investment banker, had also returned to live in Chicago with...

Becoming Summary Chapters 10-12: Fraser’s Death and the Obamas’ Marriage (1990-1993)

These chapters focus on the death of Michelle's father, Michelle and Barack's engagement and marriage, and Michelle’s decision to leave her law career to work at Chicago City Hall. Although her career transition posed a challenge, Michelle is transforming into someone who makes choices for herself instead of trying to impress or please other people.

Rethinking Her Future

In the summer of 1990, Barack returned to Chicago as a summer associate at a different law firm and moved into Michelle's apartment in her parents' house. This gave Marian, Fraser, and Barack a chance to get to know each other. But he soon returned to Cambridge to attend to his duties as president of the Harvard Law Review. Barack was the first African-American to hold this position.

Michelle realized that Barack's future looked bright and bold while hers seemed lackluster. She felt serious doubts about her choice of career. Practicing corporate law held little meaning for her. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, and she felt somewhat intimidated by Barack's confidence that he was ready to make a difference in the world. She started writing in a journal to sort through her...

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Shortform Exercise: Knowing When to Swerve

Michelle Obama writes about being a “box checker” as a child, someone who strives for perfect attendance and straight A’s. She followed a straight-line path to success, checking off one box after another until she reached her academic and career goals. But later in life, she learned she had to “swerve” to adjust to life’s circumstances. (For example, she veered away from corporate law to a more meaningful but lesser paying job.)

In general, do you see yourself as someone who checks boxes or someone who swerves? (To think of it another way: Do you see yourself as a meticulous planner or as someone who is more spontaneous in your decision-making?) What makes you say this?

Becoming Summary Chapters 13-14: Career Changes and Motherhood (1993-2003)

These chapters focus on Michelle's career moves—first to the nonprofit Public Allies and then to the University of Chicago—as well as her challenges in getting pregnant and the eventual birth of the Obamas' two daughters. Becoming a mother fulfills a lifelong goal for Michelle—and plays an important role in her evolution as a person.

Executive Director at Public Allies

After Michelle left her job at Chicago City Hall, she was hired as the executive director for the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an organization that sought to inspire a new generation of community leaders. Much like Teach for America or AmeriCorps, Public Allies trained talented young people through 10-month apprenticeships in civic-minded jobs and nonprofit organizations.

As the 29-year-old executive director, Michelle was thrilled to have the chance to run her own nonprofit. She relished being in charge of setting up an office, hiring staff, seeking out donors, and finding suitable places for young people to work. Most of all, she enjoyed selecting the "allies" themselves, the young people who would participate. She searched out candidates at community colleges and urban high schools....

Becoming Summary Chapter 15: Michelle's Early Forties (2004-2006)

This chapter focuses on Michelle's dual roles as career woman and mother, Barack's tenure as a U.S. Senator, and how Hurricane Katrina affects his decision to run for U.S. President. At this stage in Michelle’s “becoming,” she feels satisfied with her career choice and overjoyed to be a wife and mother. But she’s about to face new challenges as Barack moves deeper into the political arena.

At 40 years old, Michelle's life settled into a fairly happy routine. She was careful not to allow her job at the hospital to overtake her family life. She felt like she was "pulling it off"— balancing a challenging and satisfying job with the joys of motherhood. Unlike in her younger years, she no longer threw herself completely into her work. She was protective of her time to make sure she provided a stable life for her girls. She discovered that living this way made her happy.

Barack Runs for Senate

Believing that he could make big changes in Washington, D.C., Barack toyed with the idea of running for U.S. Senate. Michelle tried to discourage him.

If Barack ran, his campaign would be especially difficult because he was only an Illinois state legislator. He was unknown...

Shortform Exercise: Supporting Your Partner When You Don't Agree

Michelle decided to support Barack's run for the Presidency despite her deep misgivings about politics and her longing for a private family life.

How do you resolve career conflicts—or other major conflicts of interest—in your relationship?

Becoming Summary Chapters 16-18: Campaign for the Presidency (2007-2008)

These chapters focus on Barack's successful run for U.S. President, Michelle's role in campaigning, and the challenges of living in the media spotlight. Michelle must confront her aversion to public life and distaste for politics and find a way to support her partner without losing her own precious sense of self.

Barack Announces His Candidacy

Michelle truly believed Barack had the intelligence, temperament, discipline, and empathy to be a great president. She believed in his ideals and his ability to bring them to life. But she also knew enough about America to think the country might not yet be ready for a Black president. She had an unshakeable feeling that no matter how hard he campaigned, he wasn't going to win.

On February 10, 2007, Barack prepared to stand at an outdoor podium in a freezing Illinois storm to announce his candidacy. Michelle worried that the awful weather would mean a small crowd, and Barack’s kickoff event might be a dismal failure. She worried that her daughters would trip over their feet or look bored on stage. She worried whether she or they were dressed properly. She was painfully aware of the image she was supposed to project: **"I knew...

Becoming Summary Chapters 19-20: Inauguration and First Year in the White House

These chapters focus on Michelle's role as first lady, her family's adjustment to life in the White House, her plan to plant a White House garden, and her first visit with Queen Elizabeth. Michelle initially feels daunted by the intensely public role she plays in American life, but she soon adapts to her new reality and manages to put her own unique spin on being first lady.

Preparing to Be the First Black First Lady

In the 76 days between the election and the inauguration, Michelle started to plan what she would do as first lady. After the hard knocks Michelle had to withstand during Barack's presidential campaign, she had a fair idea of the scrutiny that awaited. As the first Black woman in American history to serve as first lady, she would be "measured by a different yardstick."

The job of a first lady does not come with a job description or even with official responsibilities. And yet, the position wields tremendous power, and Michelle wanted to use that power to achieve positive changes. Since she was free to select her own agenda, **she planned to oversee several initiatives that would offer better support for military families and teach America's kids about...

Becoming Summary Chapters 21-22: Balancing Public and Private Life (2009-2013)

These chapters focus on how the Obamas learn to navigate their public and private lives, Michelle's fears about her family's safety, and her successful initiatives for children's health and military families. Michelle is now firmly entrenched in her role as first lady—and every day makes her more fully aware of the advantages and disadvantages of that role.

Barack had been in office for four months when Malia and Sasha received the present they'd been promised throughout his campaign. Senator Ted Kennedy gave them Bo, a seven-month-old Portuguese water dog. The entire family loved Bo, and he was permitted to wander through most of the White House rooms.

Date Night for the Obamas

About the same time as the puppy joined the family, Barack and Michelle went on a date in New York City to have dinner and see a Broadway show. They had given up the customary date night they used to enjoy in Chicago, and the pair wanted to have an evening alone. Of course, the Secret Service had to plan every move, block off streets, and thoroughly check out every patron who entered the restaurant. Since the couple had to travel in the presidential motorcade, streets were blocked off and...

Shortform Exercise: The Importance of Mentors

Michelle described a number of women who served as mentors for her at different times in her life—from her boss at her work-study job at Princeton to her colleagues at Chicago City Hall to past first ladies in the White House. Each mentor helped her to see what kind of person she could become.

Name three of the most important mentors in your life. Next to each name, write what they've helped you to achieve.

Shortform Exercise: The Importance of Friendship

When Michelle moved to Washington, D.C., she had to work harder to maintain her relationships with her Chicago girlfriends. But because these friends had always been her "circle of strength," she made an extra effort to keep them close (for example, planning getaways at Camp David with them).

List three people who are part of your circle of strength. Next to each name, write how that person supports you.

Becoming Summary Chapter 23: Second Term in the White House (2011-2016)

These chapters focus on Barack's second term in the White House, Michelle's higher education and girls' schooling initiatives, and the Obamas' campaign against gun violence. Now that Michelle has had four years of experience as first lady, she’s able to settle into her role and achieve more of the public-service goals that matter to her.

Barack's popularity soared briefly after bin Laden was killed, but by late summer 2011, Barack was taking a beating by a group of Republican senators who voted down almost all of his bills. The county was still in a dismal economic state from the 2008 financial meltdown. Americans were worried about a possible recession. Many politicians and voters blamed Barack for the mess. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Republican Party’s most important task was to make sure Barack was “a one-term president.” It seemed that despite the state of the country, the Republicans had only one goal, and that was to see Barack fail.

Meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa

That same summer, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha were scheduled to travel to South Africa for a goodwill visit. Michelle had speeches to make and meetings to attend. She...

Becoming Summary Chapter 24 & Epilogue: The Obama Era Ends (2017)

The final pages focus on Sasha and Malia's life in the White House, the last year of the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's campaigns for the presidency, and the 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump. After the inauguration, Michelle and her family depart the White House, and her next stage of “becoming” begins. After eight years of an extremely unusual life, she must now adjust to the world beyond the White House and the new reality that her daughters are nearly grown.

Sasha and Malia Grow Up

In the Obamas’ eighth year at the White House, Malia graduated from high school and traveled to Europe. At Malia's graduation ceremony, Michelle looked over at Barack, who had tears in his eyes as Malia walked across the stage, and felt sorry for him. Since Barack was ending his second term as President, he was nearly finished with his service to the country and would soon have more time to spend with his daughters. But now Malia was an independent young woman who was ready to leave the nest. Both parents felt sad that their oldest was preparing to leave home.

Teenagers in the Spotlight

Michelle feels proud of Sasha and Malia for how well they...

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by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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  • Biography & Memoir
  • Midwest, USA
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  • Contemporary
  • Parenting & Families
  • Adult-YA Crossover Nonfiction
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About this Book

  • Reading Guide

Book Summary

Winner of the 2019 BookBrowse Nonfiction Award An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America - the first African-American to serve in that role - she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her - from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world's most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it - in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations - and whose story inspires us to do the same.

Read a text excerpt of the preface Listen to an audio excerpt of the preface, read by Mrs Obama Both links open in a new window.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  • Mrs. Obama begins her book with a story about making cheese toast on a quiet night at home, a few months after leaving the White House. Why do you think she chose this story to begin her memoir?
  • Mrs. Robinson is the opposite of a helicopter parent. She was tough and had very high expectations for her children, and she also expected them to figure some things out on their own and learn from their missteps and the process of making choices. She gave her children agency at a very young age. How did that shape Mrs. Obama? ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

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I could not have loved this book more than I did. It was presented in such a way that when I was finished, I felt I had full knowledge of what made Michelle tick (Carol R). It was like meeting a new friend and over time getting to know her through revelations of the stages of her life. It was easy and still thought-provoking (katherinep). I love Michelle Obama and I loved her book. She is a class act and it came through in her writing (djn). I found her memoir astounding. She writes with such honesty, passion, and love (barbarae). This is a fabulous, informative and uplifting book. I always had a good impression of Michelle Obama and this book enhanced it. I felt that Michelle really shared herself with her readers and offered an intimate look at her life (Lois I)... continued

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  • Genres & Themes

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Reading Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” as a Motherhood Memoir

By Emily Lordi

Michelle Barack Sasha and Malia Obama embrace.

“I don’t want to make somebody else,” Toni Morrison’s character Sula declares, when urged to get married and have kids, “I want to make myself.” Morrison herself might have understood this to be a false dichotomy—she was a single mother of two by the time she published “ Sula ,” her second novel, in 1973—but, in her fiction, she split the individualist impulse to make an artful life and the domestic drive to make a home between two characters: Sula and her best friend, Nel. The tensions between these two desires animate the body of fiction and nonfiction about the private lives of women and mothers. It’s a canon that has been dominated by the accounts of white, straight writers, but it now includes Michelle Obama’s blockbuster memoir, “ Becoming .”

What Obama brings to this genre is, first, a powerful sense of self, which precedes and exceeds her domestic relationships—the book’s three sections are titled “Becoming Me,” “Becoming Us,” “Becoming More”—and, second, a conviction that the roles of wife and mother are themselves undefined. She makes and remakes her relationship to both throughout her adult life. In this, she draws on the literature of black women’s self-making that “Sula” represents. The modern matron saint of that tradition is Zora Neale Hurston, who, in a 1928 essay, describes “ How It Feels to Be Colored Me ”: a prismatic, mutable experience of being a loner, a spectacle, an ordinary woman, a goddess (“the eternal feminine with its string of beads”). Lucille Clifton shares Hurston’s sense of the need to invent oneself in a world without reliable mirrors or maps; as she writes in a poem, from 1992, “i had no model. / born in babylon / both nonwhite and woman / what did I see to be except myself? / i made it up…” Like these writers, Obama exposes the particular pressures and thrills of black women’s self-creation. But she also details the rather more modest creation of a stable domestic life. By bringing motherhood, marriage, and self-making together in “Becoming,” she combines the possibilities that Sula and Nel represent.

In some ways, Obama’s desires for a stable home and family are quite conventional, and she uses the conventionally feminine, domestic metaphor of knitting to describe them. “We were learning to adapt, to knit ourselves into a solid and forever form of us,” she writes of the first months of her marriage to Barack. It isn’t easy: in the Robinson-Obama union, the South Side power-walker meets the Hawaii-born ambler; the meticulous planner and striver with an “instinctive love of a crowd” and a desire for family must adapt to the messy, cerebral dreamer who loves solitude and books at least as much as he loves people. Later, the woman who loathes politics must throw her life into her husband’s pursuit of the Presidency.

Things are complicated long before the campaign, as children both complete and unsettle the Obamas’ carefully cultivated “us.” Once Obama gets pregnant, through I.V.F., her resentment at Barack’s distance from the pain of miscarriage and needles gives way to feelings of maternal pride. Upon Malia’s arrival, she writes, “motherhood became my motivator”—yet, three years (and almost twenty pages) later, she is most galvanized by her new full-time job, at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Although she considers staying home when Sasha is born, she instead takes the job, which “[gets her] out of bed in the morning,” though Barack’s comparative absence, as a commuting state and U.S. senator, gets her home in time for dinner. Then, just as Sasha is about to start elementary school and Obama is “on the brink of . . . [firing] up my ambition again and [considering] a new set of goals,” it is decided that Barack should run for President.

Michelle is still driven, but now by a desire not to fail Barack’s growing base of supporters. In an effort to “earn” public approval, she talks a lot about her kids while campaigning—a safe subject for a black woman who was framed in negative contemporary press accounts as an unpatriotic shrew. As the Obamas near the Iowa primaries, Michelle’s growing commitment to Barack’s cause is reflected in her language. Her pronouns shift from “him” to “we”—“Our hopes were pinned on Iowa. We had to win it or otherwise stand down”—and she adopts Barack’s own sermonic listing mode, describing meetings with voters “in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs . . . in bookstores, union halls, a home for aging military veterans, and, as the weather warmed up, on front porches and in public parks.” Her rhetoric itself knits her and Barack into a “we.”

The book as a whole, however, represents a different moment, and announces her ambition to tell her story in her own way. A long memoir by any measure, “Becoming” not only matches the length of Barack’s first book, “ Dreams from My Father ,” but it also shows Michelle to be a better storyteller than her husband—funnier, and able to generate a surprising degree of suspense about events whose outcomes are a given (the results of Barack’s first run for President, for instance). Having devoted herself to strategically remaking the office of First Lady, through such initiatives as the White House garden and Let Girls Learn, she now reflects on what she has done and who else she might want to become.

Of course, the choices she makes throughout—to focus more and less on work, more and less on family—are a function of privilege. It is a privilege to decide how much or whether to work, and a privilege to have children, whether through I.V.F. or otherwise. The ability to steer one’s own ship also relies on the sheer luck of evading any number of American disasters: layoffs, mass shootings, prison, domestic violence, lack of health care. Then there are the disasters perpetrated by the U.S. surveillance state, which can undo black women, such as Sandra Bland, or their children, such as Kalief Browder. Under these conditions of hypervisibility, no amount of strategic maneuvering can guarantee one’s safety. And, in light of this, the Obamas’ faith in the American system, and in electoral politics, can seem woefully insufficient.

It comes as something of a relief, then, that, even as Michelle seeks to bind her own story to that of her husband and, through him, to that of the nation, the story of her mother, Marian Robinson, hints at an exit. Robinson is a willfully marginal figure in the text, as she was in the White House—famously reluctant to move in, and evasive of its basic security protocols. She gave everything to her kids (“We were their investment,” Michelle writes of her parents’ devotion to their two children) and stood by her husband, Fraser Robinson III, while multiple sclerosis drained him of strength. And yet, it turns out, she harbored fantasies of leaving. It is here that Obama’s portrait of her mother grows most vivid: “Much later, my mother would tell me that every year when spring came and the air warmed up in Chicago, she entertained thoughts about leaving my father. I don’t know if these thoughts were actually serious or not. . . . But for her it was an active fantasy, something that felt healthy and maybe even energizing to ponder, almost as ritual.” Obama sees this ritual as an internal renewal of vows for Marian, akin to how doubts about God might be said to bolster one’s faith. But the fantasy also represents a wholly other possibility: not a knitting-together but an unfurling, a quiet dream of escape.

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A Mother’s Rare Condition

By Amy Davidson Sorkin

Michelle Obama’s New Reign of Soft Power

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Michelle Obama makes decency great again in her memoir Becoming : EW review

David Canfield is a Staff Editor. He oversees the magazine's books section, and writes film features and awards analysis.

becoming michelle obama summary essay

Allow Michelle Obama to clear the air. She doesn't intend to ever run for office. She believes our current president is a "misogynist" whose racist rhetoric put her "family's safety at risk." She fears the impact of the president's recklessness on the country she loves. "I've lain awake at night, fuming over what's come to pass," Obama writes in her memoir, Becoming . "It's been distressing to see how the behavior and the political agenda of the current president have caused many Americans to doubt themselves and to doubt and fear one another."

Becoming arrives like a glass bottle of decency, preserved from a nationwide garbage fire. This is a straightforward, at times rather dry autobiography from a major public figure that stands in remarkably sharp contrast to the state of our discourse — starting with the man in the White House. Yet that contrast isn't derived from Obama's scathing commentary on Donald Trump, which is both brief and somewhat expected, but rather, from the rest — as in, the vast majority — of Becoming , which describes one woman's growth from the South Side of Chicago to First Lady of the United States, through tales of empowerment and overcoming adversity.

What sets Becoming apart is context: Michelle Obama is a black woman, unlike her predecessors, and her book is publishing at a time of unprecedented social division. Thus this latest entrant in the canon of First Lady memoirs — a subgenre themed largely by appeals to unity — can hardly be called apolitical. Every sentence Obama writes makes a statement. This turns out to be especially true because of how little the author deviates from the formula.

The book's first third, "Becoming Me," is dedicated to Obama's upbringing in '60s Chicago and her educational development. It can drag, progressing like so many memoirs of its type. But Obama also constructs episodes from her childhood which vividly, subtly capture the experience of growing up black in America: learning of racism's legacy as she hears her grandfather's stories, being challenged by a peer for "talking like a white girl," occupying spaces like piano recitals and, later, Princeton University, where her blackness — "that everyday drain of being in a deep minority" — clarifies itself.

Obama grew up working-class. Her parents — a stay-at-home mom, and a father whose body she watched decline from multiple-sclerosis until his death at 55 — fully encouraged her ambitions and intellectual curiosity. She recounts memories with an eye toward her political-adjacent future. In remembering how she'd watch her father talk to his neighbors with keen interest and warmth, Obama writes intently to the image of observing a good-hearted politician making the rounds, listening to his constituents' troubles, like he has nowhere else to be. (Remind you of anyone?) She also depicts moments of personal transformation, like when she, still young, physically attacked a moody girl named DeeDee to gain her respect.

But these are the scenes you'd get in the biopic version: meaty, telegraphed, devoid of subtext. The mechanics can outweigh the story here. Obama's strength in Becoming lies in hindsight, her ability to take a step back from a specific anecdote, and not only contextualize but ruminate on it, really consider its power. In these asides, that introspection Obama claims to have had as a kid comes into thrilling evidence — as prose. On one difficult teen experience, she writes, "I look back on the discomfort of that moment and recognize the more universal challenge of squaring who you are with where you come from and where you want to go." One of Becoming 's best passages comes even earlier, in the preface, as Obama details the day of Trump's inauguration: "A hand goes on a Bible; an oath gets repeated. One president's furniture gets carried out while another's comes in. Closets are emptied and refilled in the span of a few hours. Just like that, there are new heads on new pillows — new temperaments, new dreams. And when it ends, when you walk out the door that last time from the world's most famous address, you're left in many ways to find yourself again."

I focus particularly on the book's opening section because it's most reflective of how Obama frames Becoming : as a story of where she came from, where she went, and how she carried herself along the way. The author invests in a sort of quintessentially American narrative, but subverts it by not shying away from the realities of race and gender, and finding opportunities for complex, candid reflection.

The bulk of these opportunities, surely, arrive in "Becoming Us" — the book's second and best section, devoted to her romance with Barack Obama. Again, from a distance, it looks roughly like what we've seen from many a First Lady's public account: the bumps in the road, the difficulty of the spotlight, the durability of their love. But Obama seems determined in Becoming to fully live in the pain, the disappointment, the regret, and the loss she's felt at various times during their relationship. She interrogates it, picks at it, and reveals to readers what's underneath.

Just listen to the words she uses. Obama felt "resentment" toward her husband and his commitment to politics after she suffered a miscarriage and, on a doctor's recommendation, proceeded with IVF treatments to start a family. "Or maybe I was just feeling the acute burden of being female," she continues. "Either way, he was gone and I was here, carrying the responsibility." (Earlier, she draws a hauntingly clear picture: "Now here I was in the bathroom of our apartment, trying, in the name of all that want, to screw up the courage to plunge a syringe into my thigh.") Then there's when she fell for Barack; she describes the feeling as "a toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder." Obama embraces passionate language periodically, lending Becoming bursts of authenticity.

Overall, Obama plays to the space she and her husband have occupied in the culture — an idyllic, supportive marital unit — brilliantly. She affirms the public perception, that their relationship is happy, healthy, and loving. But she deconstructs what it took — takes — to get there: couples counseling, flickers of doubt, confusion, sacrifice, even loneliness. In laying that aspect of her life most bare — more than her childhood, more than her own legal career and ambitions — Obama persuasively communicates the primacy of her marriage in her life.

Becoming takes a peculiar turn in its final act, as Obama discusses her time in the White House. She ably conveys the confinement she felt — literalized, perhaps, in the saga that was trying to just sit out on the Truman Balcony — and the toll it took on her family. ("This isn't how families work or how ice cream runs work," she recalls saying after Secret Service intervened in Malia trying to get ice cream with her friends.) But this extends to her writing. It's choppy and guarded and, strangely, a bit defensive as she espouses the value of the causes she took up as First Lady. One senses there are layers yet to be peeled here — that the presidency remains relatively raw for Becoming 's author.

But then Becoming is a rather peculiar read throughout. We're at the end of 2018, a year when the paradigm for Washington memoirs has shifted so dramatically — when a fired FBI Director , a reality TV star , and an award-winning journalist could each top the New York Times best-seller list for the exact same reason: digging up Trump dirt. No one has been able to escape the stench, or if they have, they certainly haven't sold Fire and Fury -level copies . Leave it to Michelle "When they go low, we go high" Obama to meet the challenge.

She is direct, forceful, and condemnatory when speaking about Trump, but in a fashion that doesn't sour or alter her own life story. Her honesty translates. More importantly, her intention translates, to remind her country of what's being lost — what she witnessed during the Obama years, what guided their presidency: "a sense of progress, the comfort of compassion…. A glimmer of the world as it could be." May decency reign again. B

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becoming michelle obama summary essay

Michelle Obama

Everything you need for every book you read., michelle obama quotes in becoming.

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I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving. It came in the form of bad music, or at least amateur music, coming up through the floorboards of my bedroom—the plink plink plink of students sitting downstairs at my great-aunt Robbie’s piano, slowly and imperfectly learning their scales.

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The issue was that I wasn’t used to flawless. In fact, I’d never once in my life encountered it. My experience of the piano came entirely from Robbie’s […] less-than-perfect upright, with its honky-tonk patchwork of yellowed keys and its conveniently chipped middle C. To me, that’s what a piano was—the same way my neighborhood was my neighborhood, my dad was my dad, my life was my life. It was all I knew.

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Now that I’m an adult, I realize that kids know at a very young age when they’re being devalued, when adults aren’t invested enough to help them learn. Their anger over it can manifest itself as unruliness. It’s hardly their fault. They aren’t “bad kids.” They’re just trying to survive bad circumstances.

He’d been promptly picked up by a police officer who accused him of stealing it, unwilling to accept that a young black boy would have come across a new bike in an honest way. (The officer, an African American man himself, ultimately got a brutal tongue-lashing from my mother, who made him apologize to Craig.) What had happened, my parents told us, was unjust but also unfortunately common. The color of our skin made us vulnerable. It was a thing we’d always have to navigate.

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At one point, one of the girls, a second, third, or fourth cousin of mine, gave me a sideways look and said, just a touch hotly, “How come you talk like a white girl?”

The question was pointed, meant as an insult or at least a challenge, but it also came from an earnest place. It held a kernel of something that was confusing for both of us. We seemed to be related but of two different worlds.

As I was entering seventh grade, the Chicago Defender , a weekly newspaper that was popular with African American readers, ran a vitriolic opinion piece that claimed Bryn Mawr had gone, in the span of a few years, from being one of the city’s best public schools to a “run-down slum” governed by a “ghetto mentality.” Our school principal, Dr. Lavizzo, immediately hit back with a letter to the editor, defending his community of parents and students and deeming the newspaper piece “an outrageous lie, which seems designed to incite only feelings of failure and flight.”

He toured the country, mesmerizing crowds with thundering calls for black people to shake off the undermining ghetto stereotypes and claim their long-denied political power. He preached a message of relentless, let’s-do-this self-empowerment. “Down with dope! Up with hope!” he’d call to his audiences.

Your passion stays low, yet under no circumstance will you underperform. You live, as you always have, by the code of effort/result, and with it you keep achieving until you think you know the answers to all the questions—including the most important one. Am I good enough? Yes, in fact I am .

But listening to Barack, I began to understand that his version of hope reached far beyond mine: It was one thing to get yourself out of a stuck place, I realized. It was another thing entirely to try and get the place itself unstuck.

I informed Barack that if our relationship was going to work, he’d better get comfortable with the phone. “If I’m not talking to you,” I announced, “I might have to find another guy who’ll listen.” I was joking, but only a little.

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I regretted not coming earlier. I regretted the many times, over the course of our seesawing friendship, that I’d insisted she was making a wrong move, when possibly she’d been doing it right. I was suddenly glad for all the times she’d ignored my advice. I was glad that she hadn’t over-worked herself to get some fancy business school degree. That she’d gone off for a lost weekend with a semi-famous pop star, just for fun. I was happy that she’d made it to the Taj Mahal to watch the sunrise with her mom. Suzanne had lived in ways that I had not.

“I’m just not fulfilled,” I said.

I see now how this must have come across to my mother, who was then in the ninth year of a job she’d taken primarily so she could help finance my college education, after years of not having a job so that she’d be free to sew my school clothes, cook my meals, and do laundry for my dad, who for the sake of our family spent eight hours a day watching gauges on a boiler at the filtration plant.

I had never been one to hold city hall in high regard. Having grown up black and on the South Side, I had little faith in politics. Politics had traditionally been used against black folks, as a means to keep us isolated and excluded, leaving us undereducated, unemployed, and underpaid. I had grandparents who’d lived through the horror of Jim Crow laws and the humiliation of housing discrimination and basically mistrusted authority of any sort.

It sounds a little like a bad joke, doesn’t it? What happens when a solitude-loving individualist marries an outgoing family woman who does not love solitude one bit?

The answer, I’m guessing, is probably the best and most sustaining answer to nearly every question arising inside a marriage, no matter who you are or what the issue is: You find ways to adapt. If you’re in it forever, there’s really no choice.

None of this was his fault, but it wasn’t equal, either, and for any woman who lives by the mantra that equality is important, this can be a little confusing. It was me who’d alter everything, putting my passions and career dreams on hold, to fulfill this piece of our dream. I found myself in a small moment of reckoning. Did I want it? Yes, I wanted it so much. And with this, I hoisted the needle and sank it into my flesh.

In the end, the year 2000 arrived without incident. After a couple of days of rest and some antibiotics, what indeed had turned out to be a nasty ear infection for Malia cleared up, returning our toddler to her normal bouncy state. Life would go on. It always did. On another perfect blue-sky day in Honolulu, we boarded a plane and flew home to Chicago, back into the chill of winter and into what for Barack was shaping up to be a political disaster.

Somewhat brazenly, I suppose, I laid all this out in my interview with Michael Riordan, the hospital’s new president. I even brought three-month-old Sasha along with me, too. I can’t remember the circumstances exactly, whether I couldn’t find a babysitter that day or whether I’d even bothered to try. Sasha was little, though, and still needed a lot from me. She was a fact of my life—a cute, burbling, impossible-to-ignore fact— and something compelled me almost literally to put her on the table for this discussion. Here is me , I was saying, and here also is my baby .

Crazy rumors swirled about Barack: that he’d been schooled in a radical Muslim madrassa and sworn into the Senate on a Koran. That he refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. That he wouldn’t put his hand over his heart during the national anthem. That he had a close friend who was a domestic terrorist from the 1970s.

And yet a pernicious seed had been planted—a perception of me as disgruntled and vaguely hostile, lacking some expected level of grace. Whether it was originating from Barack’s political opponents or elsewhere, we couldn’t tell, but the rumors and slanted commentary almost always carried less-than-subtle messaging about race, meant to stir up the deepest and ugliest kind of fear within the voting public. Don’t let the black folks take over. They’re not like you. Their vision is not yours.

“On this day,” he said, “we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

I saw that truth mirrored again and again in the faces of the people who stood shivering in the cold to witness it. There were people in every direction, as far back as I could see. They filled every inch of the National Mall and the parade route. I felt as if our family were almost falling into their arms now. We were making a pact, all of us. You’ve got us; we’ve got you.

I understood how lucky we were to be living this way. The master suite in the residence was bigger than the entirety of the upstairs apartment my family had shared when I was growing up on Euclid Avenue. There was a Monet painting hanging outside my bedroom door and a bronze Degas sculpture in our dining room. I was a child of the South Side, now raising daughters who slept in rooms designed by a high-end interior decorator and who could custom order their breakfast from a chef.

There are pieces of public life, of giving up one’s privacy to become a walking, talking symbol of a nation, that can seem specifically designed to strip away part of your identity. But here, finally, speaking to those girls, I felt something completely different and pure—an alignment of my old self with this new role. Are you good enough? Yes, you are, all of you. I told the students of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson that they’d touched my heart. I told them that they were precious, because they truly were. And when my talk was over, I did what was instinctive. I hugged absolutely every single girl I could reach.

We were taking on a huge issue, but now I had the benefit of operating from a huge platform. I was beginning to realize that all the things that felt odd to me about my new existence—the strangeness of fame, the hawkeyed attention paid to my image, the vagueness of my job description—could be marshaled in service of real goals. I was energized. Here, finally, was a way to show my full self.

Later that day, Barack held a press conference downstairs, trying to put together words that might add up to something like solace. He wiped away tears as news cameras clicked furiously around him, understanding that truly there was no solace to be had. The best he could do was to offer his resolve—something he assumed would also get taken up by citizens and lawmakers around the country—to prevent more massacres by passing basic, sensible laws concerning how guns were sold.

He was a good father, dialed in and consistent in ways his own father had never been, but there were also things he’d sacrificed along the way. He’d entered into parenthood as a politician. His constituents and their needs had been with us all along.

It had to hurt a little bit, realizing he was so close to having more freedom and more time, just as our daughters were beginning to step away. But we had to let them go. The future was theirs, just as it should be.

For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end. I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children. I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person. I have become, by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure or unheard.

Becoming PDF

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91 pages • 3 hours read

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Part 1, Chapters 6-8

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Discussion Questions

Michelle makes several references to how growing up in the South Side of Chicago impacted her life. What influence did this upbringing have on Michelle?

At various points in her life, Michelle worries about not being good enough. Why is this such a common feeling, even for smart, successful people like Michelle, and how does she overcome it?

Many people view Barack Obama as an important American figure, and sometimes it’s hard to see him as a typical person. How does Michelle’s account of Barack help to humanize him? Why does she make such an effort to show his normalcy?

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The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times

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What did Obama mean when she wrote “Kids know at a very young age when they’re being devalued”, and what was the significance in the book?

Michelle Obama began going to a school where neither the students were taken seriously, and the teachers weren't serious. Obama noticed this as she was a young girl, and she wanted things to be different. Therefore, her mother made her change school, just to make sure her academics were on top. This might have been one of the most important choices Obama's mother had made, as Obama really was able to develop herself and create a good basis for her future because of this. Had she not, she would have noticed herself being devalued, and might not have thought she had the power to become anything she wished.

Obama changes from being a "box checker" to "swerving" to fit into her lifestyle. What does this mean?

When Michelle Obama was young, she wanted perfection and to do everything as good as possible, trying her best to banish all mistakes. However, as she became older and the First Lady of the United States, she began "swerving". This was because she no longer could check all the boxes she wished she could, and instead had to "go with the flow" a bit more, and hope for the best. She didn't have the same amount of control over her own life, as her security now had become a part of the national job of the country. "Swerving" was a way for her to fit in her own goals to the way her life had changed.

Why did Michelle Obama call her book "Becoming", and what does that ideal entail?

Becoming means developing, reflecting, and working on oneself for a goal. This is exactly what Michelle Obama did. She became something different than what she began as, but she still stayed true to her roots and values. This is an inspiration for the people that wish to rise from their ashes, background and perhaps even past, to become something new, to become what they were destined to become, and to become whatever they wish, because doing so is possible.

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Becoming Questions and Answers

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Study Guide for Becoming

Becoming study guide contains a biography of Michelle Obama, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

  • About Becoming
  • Becoming Summary
  • Character List

Lesson Plan for Becoming

  • About the Author
  • Study Objectives
  • Common Core Standards
  • Introduction to Becoming
  • Relationship to Other Books
  • Bringing in Technology
  • Notes to the Teacher
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  • Becoming Bibliography

becoming michelle obama summary essay

‘Becoming,’ by Michelle Obama: A pioneering and important work by Allyson Hobbs

becoming michelle obama summary essay

Reading Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming,” feels like catching up with an old friend over a lazy afternoon. Parts of her story are familiar, but still, you lean in, eager to hear them again. Other parts are new and come as a surprise. Sometimes her story makes you laugh out loud and shake your head with a gentle knowingness. Some parts are painful to hear. You wince and wish that you could have protected her from an unkind world.

Obama has sworn to tell her readers everything, and she delivers on that promise. From the silly to the surreal, from the momentous to the mundane, from the tragic to the transformative, she tells it all. As she shares her story, you are struck that every word is honest, brave and real.

“Becoming” explains how Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, “girl of the South Side,” came to be. It is a story that is as much about becoming as it is about belonging.

Obama invites us into the upstairs apartment of the red brick bungalow to experience the camaraderie and closeness that she shared with her parents, Marian and Fraser, and her older brother, Craig. She details her drive, her pursuit of achievement, her desire to check the right boxes and to prove that she was, in fact, “Princeton material,” despite the wrongheaded assessment of her high school college counselor. She would wrestle with the stubborn question — Am I good enough? — that lodged itself in her mind for years to come.

As first lady, Obama shattered the mold. Americans had never seen a life like Obama’s. She did not fit the dominant cultural frame that has been mounted around African American women.

“Becoming” shatters the mold, too. Not only because Obama writes in her signature tell-it-like-it-is style, but because she steeps her story in the richness and complexity of African American history that seldom reaches national audiences.

She is the descendant of enslaved people, a grandchild of the Great Migration, and the product of the storied black community on Chicago’s South Side. She is an observer of segregated housing, restrictive covenants and the exodus of white families to Chicago’s northern and western suburbs. She bears witness to the dashed dreams of her great uncle and grandfather who wished for greater educational and employment opportunities at a time when few if any existed for black men.

Through humor and poignant storytelling, Obama captures the joys of growing up in the neighborhood that writers have called “the capital of black America”: the sound of jazz blasting from her grandfather’s house around the corner, the barbecues where countless cousins gathered, and the feeling that, as Obama writes, “everyone was kin.”

There is a universality in the themes that “Becoming” addresses that many readers will recognize and appreciate, but at its heart, this is a story about the complexity of black women’s lives told firsthand by a black woman. This is a pioneering and important work that helps fill a gap in the literature on African American women’s lives.

“Becoming,” by Michelle Obama.

Story of a Woman: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama Report (Assessment)

The book Becoming is a memoir written by Michelle Obama in 2018. As a former US First Lady, the author decided to share her personal experience and talk about her roots and the time in the White House. This book is not only a political source of information with several complex terms and ideas, but a story of a woman and a mother in her attempts to find out the voice.

When people are asked about Obama’s policies and impact on American history, people usually choose one of the two sides: like or hate. In other words, it is hard to stay indifferent to the decisions and contributions made by the former President and his wife. Michelle Obama does not overestimate her role in society or compare her contributions with other people. Her goal is to introduce the story of her growth and the tasks she had or wanted to complete. In the “Becoming Me” chapter, Obama focuses on her personal qualities, intentions, and life before meeting Barack Obama, saying about “the sound of people trying” and “the soundtrack to our life” (4). The second chapter, “Becoming Us”, covers the events before the elections in 2008. “Becoming More” is the final chapter about the life of a presidential family and the obligation to meet social expectations and personal demands. Racial and gender issues are properly described in the book.

Becoming may become a source of inspiration and motivation for many young ladies of different races. This story helps to realize that even an ordinary girl who lives in a block, has friends, and respects parents can become a good leader and an example to be followed. This book is a political and personal story with several social, psychological, and economic issues being discovered in a simple and clear language.

Obama, Michelle. Becoming. Penguin Random House, 2018.

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Becoming Summary and Review | Book by Michelle Obama

posted on April 29, 2021

Life gets busy. Has Becoming been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, pick up the key ideas now.

We’re scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the book, order it here or get the audiobook for free on Amazon to learn the juicy details.

Here are the key insights and the book review of Becoming:

About Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is an American lawyer and author. Raised in Chicago, Michelle is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After working for multiple law firms and non-profits, Michelle’s most influential role was as the US’s First Lady from 2009 to 2017. During her time in the White House, she served as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating.


Becoming is the memoir of Michelle Obama, former US First Lady. The book was published in 2018. It delves deep into her upbringing and its impact on her future life. The book explains how Michelle found her voice. Becoming gives its readers an insight into The White House and what it was like running a highly impactful public health campaign while being a mother. Covering a diversity of Michelle Obama’s experiences, Michelle described authoring this book as a “deeply personal experience.”

A highly influential book, Becoming sold more copies than any other book in the US in 2018. More remarkably, Becoming was only released 15 days before the end of 2018. It sold more books in that short space of time than any other 2018 book had in the entirety of that year. The book is broken down into 24 chapters but is ultimately separated into three sections. The first section is titled Becoming Me and focuses on Michelle’s early life. Becoming Us delves into her education, meeting Barack Obama, and the beginning of Barack’s political career. Finally, Becoming More concludes with thoughts on Barack’s presidency, Michelle’s Let’s Move campaign, and her role as “head mom in chief.” So, this book summary will also be broken down into these three sections. Each section will be filled with the most impactful experiences, thoughts, and conclusions formed by Michelle Obama. 

StoryShot #1: Michelle’s Early Years in Chicago

Michelle Robinson was born in 1968 in Chicago’s South Side. She was brought up in a brick bungalow belonging to her mother’s aunt. Michelle recalls the national riots in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. She barely understood what was going on in her neighborhood at the time. She was so young. 

Her family was hugely important to Michelle Obama when she was growing up in Chicago. Her mother taught her how to read from a very young age. She would accompany Michelle to the public library while her father worked as a city laborer. Her father made sure that she and her brother were exposed to art and jazz. This exposure to music encouraged Michelle to learn the piano at the age of four. 

Music ran in the family for Michelle, so she had always found it easy to play the piano. Her great aunt, Robbie, taught her. This period was one of the earliest examples of Michelle’s strong-minded nature. Her and Robbie often clashed during lessons. She even thought about becoming a musician one day, but eventually decided to pursue lawyerly opportunities. In the book, Michelle describes a memory of how accustomed she had grown to her great aunt’s piano. She had perfectly practiced a song she was set to perform at Roosevelt University. But her great aunt’s piano’s unique aspect is its middle C having a chip in it. When on stage, a young Michelle froze as she could not find middle C on this new piano. Her great aunt then came on stage and pointed it out. Michelle then performed her song as she had initially hoped. This is just one snapshot of how close Michelle was with her family.

StoryShot #2: Chicago’s Racial Transition

One of the remarkable features of Michelle’s upbringing is her area was 96% white in 1950 and then 96% black by 1981. She grew up in the middle of this transition. So, she was surrounded by a mixture of black and white families. But more and more families decided to move away to the suburbs. This movement meant less funding, and the area was deemed a “ghetto.” Michelle and her family still regarded this area as their home. 

StoryShot #3: Michelle’s Schooling

Michelle’s mother was a highly influential woman in the local community. She was also highly influential in Michelle’s education as she grew up. In the second grade, Michelle told her mother that she hated her class as it was full of chaotic children. The teachers could not get the class under control, and Michelle was missing opportunities to learn. Michelle’s mother also made sure the school tested her abilities. Michelle was moved up to a class with other high-performing children who wanted to learn. This decision is potentially the most crucial in how her life turned out. She had been put on the right track to excel in school.

Her top performances in school led her to attend Whitney M. Young High School in Chicago. A Magnet School, the teachers were progressive, and her fellow students were all high performing children. Michelle showed a significant commitment to attend this school. It took her two buses and 90 minutes to get to school each day. Some of her fellow students lived in high-rise apartments right by the school and would wear designer purses. Michelle explains in the book how everything appeared so effortless to them. Despite doubting whether she fitted in, she put her head down and received excellent grades. 

StoryShot #4: Princeton University and Finding a Great Mentor

During her time at school, Michelle excelled academically but also involved herself in the school’s societies. She was the elected class treasurer. Michelle was also in the National Honor Society, and she was on track to finish in the top 10% of her class. Despite this, her college counselor told her that she might not be “Princeton material.” Beforehand, she had been excited by the prospect of Princeton. Her brother, Craig, had attended Princeton, and she thought she might join him there. This counselor could have crushed her confidence. Instead, they irritated her and made her want to apply for Princeton even more. She did, and she got in.

Upon arriving at Princeton, Michelle recalls the experience of being one of the few non-white people. This was uncomfortable. For example, less than 9% of students in her freshman class were black. Despite this, she enjoyed her time at Princeton. She found a welcoming community and a fantastic mentor.

While at Princeton, Michelle’s mentor was one of the Third World Centre leaders. This center has since been renamed the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. Her name was Czerny Brasuell, an energetic New Yorker who was a strong black woman and a working mom. During her time at Princeton, Michelle became both Czerny’s assistant and her protégé. Czerny even encouraged Michelle to start running an after school program for the children of black faculty and staff members. Her future was influenced by Czerny, who inspired her to become a working mom in the future. 

After majoring in sociology, Michelle started to consider Harvard Law School. 

StoryShot #5: Getting Into Harvard Law School and Meeting Barack Obama

Michelle did decide to pursue Harvard Law School and subsequently took her LSAT test. She admits she never stopped and thought about what she would like to be doing. Michelle went straight from Princeton to Harvard Law School. She enjoyed her time at Harvard Law School, but it is the period after this that shaped her life. 

After graduating from Harvard in 1988, Michelle moved back to Chicago to work for a law firm called Sidley & Austin. Here she met a young law student named Barack Obama. He immediately exuded confidence and self-reliance. Unlike Michelle, he had taken a couple of years between Columbia and Harvard Law School to decide what he wanted to be. 

Michelle had heard of Barack before having even met him. He made a fantastic impression on everybody he talked to. Also, the professors at Harvard had been calling him the most gifted student they had ever seen. At the time, Michelle remained skeptical about this man, Barack. From her experience, professors seemed to “go bonkers” over any half-smart black man in a nice suit. 

Michelle finally met Barack. Her role at Sidley & Austin was to meet promising law students and encourage them to join the firm when they graduated. When meeting Barack, she realized she didn’t have much advice to give him. Having taken time out, Barack was more experienced and mature than students Michelle usually advised. She recalls people at the firm asking Barack for advice on matters. 

Her friends were hugely impressed when they met him. They encouraged her to overlook Barack’s smoking and go on a date with him. After their first kiss, any doubts about her future husband vanished. 

StoryShot #6: Michelle and Barack’s Marriage and the Development of Their Careers

Michelle and Barack’s relationship developed rapidly. Michelle’s brother was highly complimentary of Barack, especially as Barack was a decent basketball player. Michelle’s brother was a college basketball player and subsequently a basketball coach. Craig, Michelle’s brother, was a massive influence on her. His affirmation helped the relationship continue to flourish. 

Barack became the first black editor for the Harvard Law Review, which meant they had to live apart for a while. Barack was then able to move to Chicago to live with Michelle. Throughout their early years in Chicago, Barack was offered many jobs. But he remained thoughtful and considerate, instead choosing community workshops over high-paid law firms. During this time, Michelle was thinking about moving away from her work at Sidley & Austin towards something that was face-to-face. She didn’t want to work on behalf of corporations anymore; she wanted to help people. 

In 1991, Michelle met Valerie Jarrett, somebody who helped her transition her career. Valerie would ultimately become a lifelong friend of Michelle. Valerie had also been an unsatisfied lawyer and wanted to work with and help people. She had been working for the mayor’s office. Valerie used this opportunity to help Michelle get a job as assistant to the then-current mayor, Richard Daley, Jr. 

In October 1992, Michelle and Barack were married. The following year, Michelle worked on an initiative called Public Allies and used this experience to obtain a role working at City Hall. Then, a few years later, the job of Executive Director for a non-profit organization emerged. This organization connected promising young people with mentors who worked in the public sector. This was a fitting job for Michelle, as she felt civic-minded mentors had heavily influenced her. 

StoryShot #7: Michelle Wasn’t Initially Keen on Barack’s Political Pursuits

Michelle understood that Barack could win people over. She recalls him speaking in a church basement to a small audience of women concerned about their community. Barack encourages them to use political engagement through voting or reaching out to local representatives. By the end, the women were shouting, “Amen!” Michelle wasn’t the only one to notice his political potential, though. The Chicago Magazine noted Barack’s fantastic work on the Project VOTE! Campaign and suggested he should run for office. Not fussed by this at the time, Barack instead wanted to write a book entitled Dreams From My Father. This book was published in 1995 to decent reviews but insignificant sales. It was based on Barack’s unusual life story of being brought up between Indonesia and Hawaii. 

In 1995, Barack was teaching a class on racism and law at the University of Chicago. This year he was also approached about starting a career in politics. A new seat was about to open up in Michelle and Barack’s local area. Michelle was not excited by this prospect. She believed Barack could have more of an impact working for a non-profit than in the state Senate. Barack listened to these ideas but decided to run with it. Barack believed he could have a positive impact on politics. 

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Michelle Obama's office says the former first lady 'will not be running for president' in 2024

Former First Lady Michelle Obama smiles during the The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2023.

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama has said he’s “all in” for President Joe Biden’s re-election effort. But a question nagging at many Democrats is what role his popular spouse might play.

Democrats nervously looking ahead to November say they want to see Michelle Obama playing a bigger role in the campaign. Some even whisper about the possibility that she might replace a politically hobbled incumbent on the 2024 ticket this summer — making her a fantasy candidate for members of both parties, albeit for different reasons.

Supporters of Republican front-runner Donald Trump have fixated on the notion of Obama ’s swooping in to replace Biden in attempt to diminish the president’s political viability and stoke the GOP base.

In a statement to NBC News, the former first lady’s office tried to rein in imaginations on the right and the left, making it clear her 2024 plans don’t include running for office.

“As former First Lady Michelle Obama has expressed several times over the years, she will not be running for president,” said Crystal Carson, director of communications for her office. “Mrs. Obama supports President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ re-election campaign.”

Sources familiar with the discussions say she intends to assist the Biden campaign this fall, as she did four years ago. But as in 2020, her engagement is likely to be fairly limited compared to that of her husband, reflecting both her other commitments and her long-standing reluctance to re-enter the political fray full time, the sources said.

The expectation of many close to Biden is that, given the former first lady’s star power, the Biden campaign will seek to maximize her limited role later in the campaign, when more swing voters will be paying attention to the race. A senior Biden adviser said there have been early conversations with Obama’s team about campaign engagements and noted that an obvious area of “alignment” with her is her nonpartisan voter registration group, When We All Vote, which aims to promote turnout and close the registration gap among young voters and people of color.

“President and Michelle Obama were enormously helpful in the fight to beat Donald Trump and elect President Biden and Vice President Harris the first time and we are grateful to have their voice and their support in the fight for the fate of our democracy this November,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz said in a statement.

An aide to Obama pointed to her discussion last year with Oprah Winfrey to reflect her thinking still today — and why she would most likely never appear on a ballot herself.

“Politics is hard,” she said in the Netflix special. “And the people who get into it … you’ve got to want it. It’s got to be in your soul, because it is so important. It is not in my soul.”

In a 2022 BBC interview, she also said she “detests” questions about running for president.

But in at least one instance, the former first lady appeared not to want the idea of her holding public office ruled out entirely. 

Amid speculation about Biden’s potential running mate in the summer of 2020, CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota suggested in an interview with Jill Biden: “Maybe former first lady Michelle Obama?” 

Jill Biden laughed. “You know, I’d love it if Michelle would agree to it. But I — you know, I think she’s had it with politics. I don’t know. She’s so good at everything she does. That would — that would be wonderful,” she said.

People close to Obama weren’t happy that Jill Biden foreclosed the option and wanted her to give a different answer if she is asked a similar question in the future, according to two people familiar with the matter. An ally of the former first lady called top Biden campaign adviser Anita Dunn, sharing the view that it wasn’t the right response, these people said.

New talking points that Obama’s office proposed would affirm that she would be great at anything she chose to do and say that she was a terrific first lady and that the Biden team is grateful for the work she’s doing at When We All Vote, according to the people familiar with the matter. They said the response was crafted to not make it sound as though Obama would never hold public office, which the former first lady’s aides thought Jill Biden did in her CNN interview.

“It doesn’t close the door,” a person familiar with the drafting of the new statement said, “and that’s what prompted Michelle’s office to call.” 

As first and second ladies in the Obama administration, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden forged a close partnership, including in their shared Joining Forces initiative to support military families. They’ve remained friendly, sources close to both women say. 

They spent some time alone together last month as they were flying back to Washington from former first lady Rosalynn Carter’s funeral. And last week, Jill Biden also hosted a private screening at the White House of “Rustin,” a film produced by the Obamas’ Higher Ground productions, though Obama didn’t attend.

Among Democrats, especially Democratic donors, Obama’s name continues to come up among those who are worried about Joe Biden’s weak standing in the polls. When special counsel Robert Hur released a scathing report questioning Biden’s frailty, “Michelle Obama” became a trending topic on X.

Republicans have for months alternatively warned and delighted in discussing the prospect of an Obama candidacy. 

Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller said she comes up in discussions with the former president.

“Everyone sees what’s happening with Joe Biden, but only a few Democrats will say it out loud,” Miller said. “Behind the scenes, Democrats across the country are calling for Joe Biden to be replaced, and of course President Trump is going to be asked for his opinion.”

Former GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy raised the notion of an Obama presidential bid no fewer than 20 times during primary campaign appearances, arguing that if he won the nomination, “there’s no way they let Biden run.”

“It’s going to be a new puppet Gavin Newsom, Michelle Obama, you name it,” Ramaswamy said.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last month, an entire panel discussion was devoted to the possibility of her being “parachuted” in as the Democratic nominee at the convention in her hometown, Chicago.

The 2020 Democratic National Convention was one of Obama’s key moments in a campaign in which she played a targeted role for her husband’s former running mate in the closing phase of the race. She delivered the closing keynote address on the first night of the convention, calling Biden a “profoundly decent man” and a “terrific vice president” with the empathy to guide the nation forward. 

A month before the election, she released an even longer address that the campaign called her “closing argument,” in which she, in very personal terms, blasted Trump for engaging in “racism, fear and division” that threatened to “destroy this nation.”

“We can no longer pretend that we don’t know exactly who and what this president stands for. Search your hearts, and your conscience, and then vote for Joe Biden like your lives depend on it,” she said. 

But she never appeared on the campaign trail, as her husband did in a series of solo campaign appearances, as well as joint events with Biden in Michigan the weekend before Election Day.

At the time, her advisers cited her role leading When We All Vote, a group that now says it is “gearing up for our biggest election cycle yet in 2024.”

Still, nothing she has done or said has stopped the speculation, or the fantasizing, about a 2024 candidacy. 

After having voted for “uncommitted” in last week’s Michigan Democratic primary, Carol Reynoso was asked whom she might write in if she could select an alternative candidate.

“Michelle Obama would be phenomenal. But she’s too smart to do this,” she said.

becoming michelle obama summary essay

Mike Memoli is an NBC News correspondent. 


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