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Gaines's work is usually categorized as Southern fiction or African-American fiction, and showcases elements of oral history, slave narratives, and the influences of fellow Southerners William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. It is structured as an interview with a 110 year old black woman, Miss Jane Pittman, who has lived to see well over a century of progress (and lack thereof) in African-American history and American society. Gaines placed this work in a mythical area of Louisiana, and Miss Jane's ideas and reminisces are communicated using regional dialect and local color, and exploring the tragedy of slavery itself, the tragedy of its legacy, and the sometimes near-impossibility of breaking the ties that bind one to an unhappy past.
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