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No, there was no real person named Jane Pittman. However, Ernest J. Gaines did base the character in his novel, "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," upon a real person, his Aunt Augusteen, a disabled woman who had no legs. While Ernest himself and others worked in the potato fields of a plantation for fifty cents a day, Aunt Augusteen cared for the children.
Gaines's aunt had a powerful influence upon him, and he incorporated strong black female characters such as Jane Pittman into his novels. To make "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" seem more authentic, Gaines had Jane tell her story herself. This method is in keeping with the oral tradition of African-Americans since the days of slavery.
I regret to inform you that there was never a woman named Miss Jane Pittman (at least not the particular one that narrates the novel). In fact, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is classified as historical fiction. As such, the characters are fiction, but set in a real place and time and often revealing situations that actually happened. In this case, these situations revolved around African-American women and the institution of slavery.
Originally known as "Ticey," as a young girl, she is told by a Union Soldier to exert her independence over her slave master. When Ticey does so, she is beaten so very badly that she is unable to have children. Eventually, she takes the name "Jane Brown" and eventually becomes "Miss Jane Pittman" when she falls in love with and lives with the horse trainer with the last name of Pittman. Due to her extreme independence, Jane does not marry Mr. Pittman (even though she does take his name), as a result she remains "Miss Jane Pittman" her entire life. As she tells her own story, Jane is now over 100 years old. She has been enslaved, freed, and now experienced racism.
Jimmy I have a scar on my back I got when I was a slave. I'll carry it to my grave. You got people out there with this scar on their brains, and they will carry that scar to their grave. Talk with them, Jimmy.
Even though Miss Jane Pittman does not exist, she represents all of the determined African-American women in the Deep South willing to exhibit their independence in many ways, either from slavery or from the racism of whites.
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