Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman remains Gaines’s best-known work, partly because of Cicely Tyson’s portrayal of Jane in the 1974 televised adaptation of the novel. It is Gaines’s most panoramic and episodic book, tracing the long life of its protagonist from her youthful emancipation to her old age in the 1960’s.
The novel purports to be the recorded history of the protagonist herself, leading many to conclude that she was a real person, but she is actually a composite portrait Gaines drew from several inspirational sources, including his aunt Augusteen Jefferson. Miss Jane’s narrative threads through historic events, providing a backdrop of well-known names and dates against which, through adversity and triumph, Jane grows in stature from an ignorant young slave to a wise old woman.
Her saga begins with no inkling of geographic reality, merely the desire to find the Union soldier who, in dubbing her “Jane Brown,” had removed her stigma as a slave. She quickly learns that freedom means that she must forage for herself, not an easy task in a land full of marauding white people bent on exterminating black vagrants.
She teams up with Ned, a younger boy whose mother has been slaughtered, and together they follow her elusive dream. With the end of Reconstruction and the onset of the Jim Crow era, Ned migrates to Kansas, committed to helping his fellow black people, who have been forced once again into...
(The entire section is 524 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is the life story of Jane Pittman as purportedly told to an unnamed schoolteacher, who edits the interviews into a continuous narrative of life among slaves and other Louisiana African Americans from 1864 to 1963, from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. This editor is a fictional personage whose interests in Jane become a motive for learning about life among poor African Americans in the South. Through the device of the schoolteacher learning about Jane and other African Americans, the book represents the individual trials, hopes, and aspirations of Southern African Americans they battle for dignity and self-esteem long after they were supposed to have been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
The editor negotiates interview opportunities with sixty-year-old Mary Hodges, who looks after Jane. Jane herself is more than one hundred years old (she does not know exactly how old she is, but she thinks that she was ten when she took the name of Jane in 1864). Jane does not seem able to keep her memories straight, so the editor asks neighbors for help in assembling her jumbled memories into a coherent narrative. Jane’s style of speaking is abrupt and halting, sometimes repetitious and discontinuous.
Jane’s story is divided into four parts. The first, “The War Years,” covers the period near the end of the Civil War, when Jane tries to leave...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
In The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman the heroine and many African Americans in south Louisiana move from passivity to heroic assertion and achieve a new identity. Gaines’s best-known novel is not an autobiography but a first-person reminiscence of a fictional 110-year-old former slave whose memories extend from the Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King, Jr. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman tells her unschooled but adept version of state and national occurrences and personalities (Huey Long, the flood of 1927, the rise of black athletes such as Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis). Her version of history is given to a tape-recording young schoolteacher who wants historical facts; Jane helps him to understand the dynamics of living history, the way she remembers it. Her accounts are loving, sane, and responsible. Her language—speech patterns and pronunciations—is authentic, since Gaines read interviews with former slaves.
Renamed Jane Brown by a Union soldier because Ticey (her original name) is “a slave name,” Jane wears her new designation proudly, as a badge of her identity as a free woman, when she and other former slaves attempt to escape from Louisiana. Many of them are brutally murdered by Klansmen. Jane, who is about ten at the time, escapes along with a small orphan, Ned. Jane becomes Ned’s mother and during Reconstruction she raises him when they settle on another plantation as fieldhands. Ned receives...
(The entire section is 466 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Before Miss Jane Pittman agrees to give a tape-recorded account of her more than one hundred years of life—from before the end of slavery to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s—the editor, a history teacher, has to convince her to do so in order to better teach African American history from the perspective of a black woman who experienced it firsthand. Miss Jane’s story begins at the end of the American Civil War on a southern Louisiana plantation, when she is about ten or eleven. While bringing Yankee soldiers a drink, Miss Jane, then called Ticey, befriends a Yankee named Corporal Brown, who influences her to replace her slave name with that of Jane. Miss Jane decides to adopt the new name and the corporal’s surname. Miss Jane reveals her pride for the first time when she refuses to accept her old slave name ever again, although her mistress whips her until she bleeds.
After the war ends a year later, Miss Jane, determined and proud, decides she is leaving the plantation for Ohio, in search of Corporal Brown, although she does not know the way or what she will eat along the way. When the two dozen other former slaves Miss Jane leaves with begin their journey north, they decide to change their slave names, as Miss Jane did, to declare their independence. They are soon to find out, however, that although they are legally free, they are to be treated no better and perhaps even worse than they had been during slavery. Soon after they leave,...
(The entire section is 1084 words.)
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman follows the life of one woman from her emancipation as a slave in the 1860s to her initiation into the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s. A work of historical fiction, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman takes place in rural Louisiana. It opens with an encounter between the ostensible "editor" of the novel, a high school history teacher, and Miss Jane Pittman, a woman who is about 110 years old. He wants to use her life story to teach his students history as it has affected real people. The editor attests that he has tried to reproduce Jane's story in her own words, and the rest of the novel is narrated from her point of view.
Book 1: The War Years
A Union Army corporal and his company stop at the Louisiana plantation on which "Ticey," as Jane is called until she is about eleven years old, is enslaved. (As a slave girl whose parents died when she was very young, Jane is not sure when she was born.) The corporal renames Ticey "Jane Brown," after his own daughter, and thereafter Jane refuses to respond to her original slave name.
A year later, at the end of the Civil War, Jane and some of the other former slaves head north. They run into "patrollers," white men who tracked escaped slaves during the war and returned them to their masters. The...
(The entire section is 1381 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 1-2 Summary
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) by Ernest J. Gaines is written as if it were being dictated to a man who is interested in hearing Miss Jane’s story. Miss Jane is more than one hundred years old as she recounts all the circumstances of her life as a slave and later as a free woman.
After introducing the story, the novel begins in the voice of the protagonist, Miss Jane, who as a slave was called Ticey. Ticey is serving water to Southern troops who are passing by the plantation on which Ticey lives. The men are completely exhausted; they can barely lift their arms to receive the gourd of water Ticey hands them. They do not even see her, she says. They do not notice if she is a girl or a boy or if she is white or black.
She pays attention to one particular soldier who is not much older than she is, though she is not completely sure of her own age, which is probably around eleven or twelve. This young soldier quotes from the Bible, claiming that the Bible says the land belongs to Southerners and black people were made to serve the Southern people. Ticey doubts that these quotations are legitimate. She says that since hearing this young soldier speak, she has asked many people to verify the soldier’s statements by searching the Bible for his references. No one has ever found them.
Several hours later, a Union troop also stops at the plantation where Ticey lives. She offers them water as well, under orders of her mistress. These soldiers are quite different, Ticey realizes. One of the men even tells her that he cannot call her Ticey because he knows it is a slave name. He gives her the name of his daughter, Jane Brown. Before leaving, the soldier asks Ticey if her master has ever beaten her. Ticey has difficulty answering this question because she senses she could get in trouble. The soldier encourages Ticey to be honest. Eventually Ticey nods in the affirmative to his question. The soldier tells Ticey that if her mistress or master ever beats her again, she is to come looking for him and he will return to burn down their house.
As she watches the soldiers leave, her mistress calls her by the name Ticey, but she refuses to respond. She is beaten for her disobedience and loses her position as a helper around the house. She is put out to work in the fields as punishment.
A year later, the white master on the plantation calls all the slaves to the house to make an...
(The entire section is 554 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary
The group of freed slaves heads for the swamps. When they get there, no one knows what to do next. Everyone is afraid of taking the lead for fear that they might get everyone lost. From the back of the crowd, a large woman steps forward. They call her Big Laura. She is the mother of two small children, one of whom she carries and the other she leads by the hand. She also has a large bundle that she balances on the top of her head. Big Laura walks to the front of the group and leads them away. After a long walk, Big Laura takes them to a path that winds through the swamp.
When they take their first break, the freed slaves discuss what they want their new names to be. Many take the last name of Lincoln or other white people’s names. When one person in the group says he wants the name Brown, Miss Jane protests. She has had that name for a year and does not want anyone else to use it. This man insists. When Miss Jane starts hitting him with a stick, he pursues her and eventually pins her to the ground. Miss Jane is defenseless against him. He is about to rape her when Big Laura starts hitting him with a stick. She beats him until he releases Miss Jane. Then Big Laura tells the man to go back to the plantation if he is going to act like that. The man refuses to go. He is afraid. Big Laura warns him, as well as everyone else, that if they act like they did when they lived on the plantation as slaves, they should return to the plantation. Only if they want to act as free people should they remain with the group.
Then Big Laura leads them through the swamp. They walk until they are completely exhausted. Big Laura makes a fire and half smothers it in moss to create a billowing pillar of smoke to keep the mosquitoes away. Miss Jane offers to stay up and swat at any mosquitoes that make it through the smoke screen so Big Laura and her children can sleep safely. But Big Laura insists that Miss Jane sleep. She tells Miss Jane that if she wants to make it to Ohio, she has to conserve her energy.
Miss Jane wakes up to the sound of someone yelling “Patrollers.” Patrollers are white men who round up runaway slaves. Since slaves have been freed and no former owner would pay the patroller for returned slaves, the patrollers are known to kill any black person they find.
Miss Jane has already begun to run when she hears Big Laura call out to her. Big Laura tells her to take her son, Ned. Miss Jane does not want to...
(The entire section is 711 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 5-6 Summary
Miss Jane cannot decide which way to go. The river is too wide and too deep to cross, but she does not know if she should turn right or left. She asks Ned to decide, and they follow his suggestion. They walk for a very long time until they hear voices. Miss Jane hides in the bushes again and insists that Ned be quiet. She listens to the conversation, and when she hears the word nigger, she realizes that the voices she is hearing must belong to slaves.
She runs out from the bushes and is amazed at what she finds. There is a large group of black people sitting next to a big wagon filled with furniture. She cannot fathom how slaves could possess that much furniture. Then she sees a white woman and two white children.
The white woman is curious about Jane, especially when Jane asks if she is in Ohio. Everyone laughs at this. The white woman takes compassion on the girl, offering her food and offering to take her in. The woman moved to Texas during the Civil War and is now just coming back to the home she left. She has been traveling a long time and hopes the Yankees have not destroyed her place. She tells Miss Jane to come with her. She treats her people kindly, she says, and would never beat anyone.
Miss Jane turns down the offer. She must get to Ohio. She asks the white woman to tell her which direction she should go. The woman again asks Miss Jane to come with her. She tells her that there is no Ohio, or at least there is no place like the one Miss Jane has imagined. When Jane tells her that her mother was beaten to death and that she never knew her father, the woman insists that Jane join them. When Jane adds that she must go to Ohio because the Yankee soldier Mr. Brown is waiting for her, the woman again tries to persuade Jane that her vision of freedom will never be realized. Mr. Brown could be dead. Even if he is alive, her chances of finding him are all but impossible.
Jane will not be deterred. She merely asks if the woman knows where to best cross the river. There is a ferry, the woman says, but that will cost money. Jane wants to know where she can get money. The woman again feels sorry for this young girl who is so innocent and knows so little about the life ahead of her. Again Jane refuses to stay with her.
Miss Jane and Ned walk until they see the ferry. It is on the other side of the river, so they wait for it to come back. When it arrives, they try to get on the boat...
(The entire section is 609 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 7-8 Summary
As Jane settles in for the night, she begins to more fully sense what freedom might be. She is wearing clean clothes, she has been well fed and washed, and she is about to fall asleep in a comfortable bed. She thinks she could stay at this house for African slave orphans for a long time.
However, her thoughts are shattered when she hears a young boy holler from across the hall—in the room where Ned is sleeping. She jumps out of bed and runs over to the next room to make sure Ned is all right. All the other boys are sitting up in their beds except for Ned and a boy next to Ned. It is the boy next to Ned who has been screaming and sobbing. When a white man appears, he questions the boys and discovers that the boy next to Ned had tried to take the two stones Ned was holding. These are the same two stones that his mother, Big Laura, had used to start a fire. It is all Ned has left of his mother. So when the other boy tried to take them away, Ned hit the boy in the head.
Once the white man sorts out the details of the incident, he tells Ned that he must get rid of those stones. If he does not, the white man will take them from him. At this pronouncement, Jane’s ire rises. She tells Ned to keep the stones. She also says to the white man that Ned has a right to keep them because they remind him of his dead mother.
The next day, Jane and Ned follow the routine of the house, which includes reading and math lessons. Jane’s mind is not quite ready to settle down to studies. She feels anxious and wants to move. She decides that freedom means more than living at this orphanage. She must find Ohio.
She packs up their few belongings and says good-bye to some of the other children and adults. She feels them looking at her as if to say that she will soon be back. But she is determined not to return to that place. That is not the freedom she is looking for.
She leads Ned to the river, and they follow its banks until they come to a military settlement of Yankee soldiers. It is the first time she has seen a black man in uniform. He teases her when she tells him she is looking for Mr. Brown. There is a Colonel Brown, he tells her, but he is too busy to see a little girl. Jane disregards him and marches into the building the soldier has pointed out as Colonel Brown’s office.
Once inside, Jane waits until she has an opportunity to slip into the colonel’s office. When she sees the man, she...
(The entire section is 634 words.)
Book 1, Chapters 9-10 Summary
Jane is tired of walking but is still determined to make it to Ohio. She and Ned are still walking through the swamps, and Jane must carry Ned much of the time because the water sometimes is as high as Jane’s waist. When they finally leave the swamp, the ground around them looks barren. There are no trees in sight, which means they will have no shade from the sun.
In the distance, Jane sees a small cabin and heads for it. When they get close, they see an old white man, who is not much taller than Jane is. The man sees how tired they are and offers them food. As Jane and Ned eat, the man answers Jane’s questions about where Ohio is. He points out where Louisiana is by going to a map that is tacked to the wall. He talks about things like latitude and longitude, but these things mean nothing to Jane. He shows her that Ohio is actually east of Louisiana, not north as Jane insists. Jane has trouble believing the man and asks him why she should she trust him. He tells her that she is asking a valid question but also asks why she should not trust him.
The man tells her that if she wants to get to Ohio, she will have to go through Mississippi. For some reason, Jane does not want to go through Mississippi. She would rather go through Arkansas, she tells the man. When she asks him how low her journey will take, the man creates a possible scenario for her. He says she might be able to walk five miles a day, but then he lists all the challenges she might face. Each challenge takes a mile or so off the distance she might cover until the man figures that at most she will walk only one mile each day. The man, who obviously is a good storyteller, also adds years to Jane’s journey by telling her that someone along the way will probably not know that slavery has ended and will take away her freedom, forcing her to work for him. The boy might get angry when someone mistreats Jane. Then they might have to run away so they are not put in jail. The man concludes his story by saying that it will take thirty or more years for Jane to make it to Ohio. With that big of a lapse of time, when (and if) she gets to Ohio and starts looking for her Mr. Brown, he probably will be dead.
After finishing the food the man has provided, Jane thanks the man and leaves. She has listened to his story but continues to believe that she will and must make it to Ohio, even if it takes her thirty years to do so.
Jane and Ned receive a ride...
(The entire section is 702 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 1-3 Summary
The era of Reconstruction begins with Book Two. Jane is still at Mr. Bone’s plantation, and life appears to be going well for her and Ned. Jane works all day while Ned goes to school. She and Ned live in a small cabin with little furniture, but they eat every day and seem happy. Ned’s teacher is a black man whom everyone likes—children and adults. The teacher offers classes for adults at night, but Jane says she is too tired at the end of the day to attend. She is proud of Ned’s progress, though, as he learns to read. Ned demonstrates his skills one night, and Jane says it makes her feel as if he were her own child.
Many politicians come to Mr. Bone’s house for meetings. Mr. Bone prefers the Republican Party, which he tells his workers is against slavery. When Jane goes to a political rally in town, she listens to all the arguments the politicians make. When the discussions become so heated that fistfights break out, she hides with Ned under the grandstand.
Not too long after this rally, Mr. Bone calls all his workers to his house to make an announcement. He has lost the title to his plantation and is being forced to leave. The Secesh, or the returning Southern Rebel soldiers, will be taking over.
The new owner is Colonel Eugene I. Dye; he is not as friendly as Mr. Bone had been. He is not in favor of Negro politicians or reading and math classes for the workers, and he announces he will not have any money to pay them until the following year. Despite the new conditions, Jane decides she does not want to leave even though half of the plantation’s population decides to go. She laments that although she is technically free, Colonel Dye acts as if slavery were still in practice.
Jane then focuses her narrative on the exodus of black people from the South that occurs after the Civil War. People start leaving in droves. Whole families pack what they own on their backs, and many of them head for Washington, D.C. Leaving the South, Jane says, is nothing new for slaves. People have always been trying to get away. They have walked through the swamps, hoping the white people would not find them, but many people have been killed in the swamps. White slave owners used dogs to hunt them down. Often, rather than bring the slaves back, men would shoot them where they found them. Now, Jane says, people are leaving again. Slavery might be over, but many of the former slaves still cannot build good lives...
(The entire section is 690 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 4-6 Summary
Jane talks about Joe Pittman, a widower with two young children. She noticed him when Ned was still living with her, but she paid little attention to him then. The reason for her lack of interest in the beginning was that she wanted to focus all her attention on Ned. Then after Ned left, she still did not want to let Joe know that she might want to have a relationship with him. She had found out earlier that she was barren, and she did not think Joe would still want her if he knew.
Joe asks Jane to be his wife but she refuses several times. She has grown to like him, but she is still concerned about her barrenness. Eventually, she confesses the reason she has been denying him. Joe does not care about her inability to have children as long as she is willing to help him raise his daughters. They eventually marry but not legally. They decide just to live together, the way slaves used to do.
Joe is tired of working for Colonel Dye and wants to look for a better job. He is good with horses and thinks he can find a position that would pay more money. He also does not like the way the colonel treats the people who work for him. Jane is not opposed to leaving the plantation, but she will not go until she hears from Ned. Ned has been gone for a year, and Jane has not received any word about where he is or what he is doing. Finally a letter arrives. Ned had written almost a year ago, but the letter took a circuitous route to get to Jane. In this first letter, Ned was doing well. There were many people who were following him to Kansas. He was responsible for finding them places to live and work. The white people in Kansas were helpful in finding jobs and providing clothes and food. But as the numbers of former slaves increased, the white people begin to turn against them; they eventually forced them out of town with guns.
After Jane tells Ned that she is married, Ned announces his wishes to attend school. A nice family has taken him in and is offering him the chance to obtain an education. But until then, Ned had felt responsible for Jane and did not want to take the time to study when he could be working and making extra money to send home. Now that someone else is helping Jane, Ned starts taking classes at night and eventually earns a teaching certificate. A few years later, Ned will come back to Louisiana to teach.
Joe finds a new job close to the border between Louisiana and Texas—almost one hundred miles...
(The entire section is 673 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 7-9 Summary
Jane and Joe make enough money over the years to buy a small farm of their own, but Joe tells Jane that he does not like farming. What he does best is breaking wild horses, and that is what he wants to do. Joe’s reputation grows. People come from all around to watch him ride some of the meanest horses, which no one else could ride.
Jane is worried about Joe. She starts to have dreams of his death. She is afraid every time he breaks one of the horses that he is going to have a terrible accident and be killed. She tells Joe about her fears. She wants him to stop riding the wild horses but Joe will not hear of it. He tells her he feels that God put him on earth to ride horses. So that is what he must do.
Joe and the other ranch hands leave to go round up some more wild horses. They come back with several of them, and a black stallion particularly catches Jane’s attention. There is something about that horse she does not like. Then she remembers that this is the horse in the dream in which Joe is killed. She begs Joe not to ride that horse. Joe refuses to listen to her.
Jane rides to town to visit with a woman who practices magic. The woman confirms that Joe is going to die. He will die no matter what Jane does, the woman says, so there is no sense in trying to stop him. Jane insists that the woman give her a magical powder that will keep Joe from riding the black horse. When Jane returns home, she grows impatient. She also loses confidence in the powder the woman gave her.
Because Jane does not want to take any chances, she goes out to the corral in the middle of the night and opens the gate so the black stallion can run free. When Joe sees the horse run, he gets on his own horse and follows him with some of the other ranch hands. Hours later, when the other ranch hands return, Jane sees Joe’s body tied across his horse’s saddle. The men tell Jane that Joe had lassoed the stallion but the stallion was too strong for him. The wild horse dragged Joe through the swamps, which is how he died.
After Joe’s death, Jane says other men wanted to have a relationship with her, but she told them all that no one would ever replace Joe. None of them, in Jane’s mind, measured up to Joe’s worth.
Time jumps forward, and after a twenty-year absence, Ned returns to Louisiana. When Jane looks up from where she is fishing, she knows the big man standing behind her is Ned even though he...
(The entire section is 647 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 10-12 Summary
Albert Cluveau is a white man who kills people. He often goes fishing with Jane, eats food she fixes for him, and drinks her coffee. He talks about fishing and farming, but mostly he likes to discuss the details of how many people he has killed, both white and black. Albert Cluveau disgusts Jane, but she continues to tolerate him. Then one day, Cluveau tells Jane that Ned is in trouble. There are some white people who want Ned dead.
Jane goes to Ned’s house to warn him. It is late at night and Ned is teaching in his home. When he is finished, Jane thinks Ned looks too tired to hear or heed her warning. So she goes home without telling him about what Cluveau has said.
A few days later, Cluveau is back at Jane’s house. He repeats that there are white people who want him to kill Ned. He tells her he has begged them to ask someone else to do the job. He does not want to kill Ned because he has become friends with Jane. But if they insist that he go through with the deadly task, he cannot refuse to do it. This time, Jane goes over to Ned’s house and tells him about Cluveau. But Ned will not stop teaching. Jane appeals to Ned’s wife, but she tells Jane that Ned is determined to teach until they kill him.
Jane joins Ned, his wife and children, and several of Ned’s students at the riverside to hear Ned give a lecture. White men have been traveling up and down the road all morning, but Jane is worried about two white men in a boat not far from shore. They are pretending to fish, but Jane knows they are there to hear what Ned is saying.
Ned tells his students that they must be strong. They must always stand up for their rights no matter what that might cost them. They should never be afraid to die for what they believe in. He wants them to look beyond the color of their skin and not to listen to people who tell them they are inferior. He then tells them about some brave men in history who accomplished great feats. He says he wants them to act as those men did.
When Ned is finished, he sits down next to Jane. Jane is afraid to look at him, though she can feel Ned staring at her. When she does turn to see him, she reads a message in his eyes: he is not afraid to die.
Ned made it through that day, but he did not last much longer. He continued to teach, and his students helped him build his school. One day when he goes into town to buy some lumber for the school with two of his...
(The entire section is 579 words.)
Book 2, Chapters 13-14 Summary
Jane exclaims that she knows Ned is dead before she is told. She is lying in bed when she sees a light flash through her room. She sits up in bed and knows someone shot Ned. So she runs to his home, where she is met by one of the boys who had been with Ned and witnessed the shooting.
As the word spreads of Ned’s death, everyone in the community comes out to mourn him. Jane makes the statement that even though these people did not support Ned’s school, they came to his house to grieve for him. Jane tells them all to go back home. She does not think all the noise they are making is good for Ned’s widow, Vivian. Jane makes Vivian go to bed and leaves a woman to watch over her. Then Jane asks to be alone with Ned. She talks to him as if he were still alive. Later, she cannot remember what she said. All she recalls is that someone came into the room and saw her lying on Ned’s body. Blood had soaked all her clothes.
When the sheriff appears, he asks the two students who were with Ned at the time of the shooting to come to his office in town the next day. When the boys appear, the sheriff insinuates that the students are lying when they identify the shooter as Albert Cluveau. Albert has claimed that he was nowhere near the site of the killing. The sheriff believes Cluveau, and that is the end of the case.
Vivian stays in the area and wants to take over Ned’s school, but Jane convinces her that it would be too dangerous. In the end, Vivian gives in and moves back to Kansas. Another man is hired to teach Ned’s students, but he does not teach any controversial material. He teaches reading and math, as the white people in town tell him to do.
After Ned’s death, Jane begins looking for Cluveau. She goes to his house but his daughters tell her that their father has just left. Every time Jane stops at his house, she receives the same answer. One day, Jane pretends she is leaving after Cluveau’s daughters tell her the same story. Jane waits until she sees Cluveau in the backyard. As soon as he notices Jane, Cluveau runs into the swamp.
Jane and Cluveau eventually have an accidental meeting. They happened to be riding on the same road. Although Cluveau refuses to look at Jane, she tells him a curse has been placed on his soul because he murdered Ned. Word spreads that Jane has used Black Magic on Cluveau. Everyone believes she has the power to do that. Jane knows nothing about magic, but...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 1-3 Summary
Jane moves about eight miles down the road from her house to a different plantation called Samson. She has wanted a change of scene in the hopes that it would help her get over missing Ned. She considered moving farther away, but a friend told her she could never move far enough to get away from her memories. So when a position opens up at Samson, she applies and is hired.
She will be working in the field again, something she loves. The outdoors make her feel good. The work is difficult but she believes she can do it, and she proves herself worthy once again. After she is at Samson for a good while, the owner offers her a house in the kitchen. Although she does not want to leave the outdoors, she realizes that the kitchen job will involve a lot less labor. She is getting old enough to realize that maybe it is time to be a little gentler with herself, so she accepts.
Jane tells stories about some of the people she meets at Samson. One of the most notable is Black Harriet, a very dark-skinned woman who is the best worker in the field. People refer to her as the Queen. She is both fast and efficient. One day a new woman comes to Samson to work. Her name is Katie Nelson, and she decides to challenge Black Harriet’s title. The workers like to see a challenge; it helps their own workday seem lighter with the distraction of the competing women. Katie Nelson is sure she can beat Black Harriet. No one else thinks she will. On the day of the competition, Katie actually works her way ahead of Black Harriet, beating her down one of the long rows they had claimed as their own. When Black Harriet sees that Katie is making progress and getting ahead of her, Black Harriet loses control. She starts working so fast that in addition to hoeing down weeds, she begins taking down the cotton bushes they are supposed to be protecting. The overseer attempts to stop Black Harriet, but she will not listen. At the end of the day, Black Harriet and Katie are gone; they have both been fired.
Jane tells about her conversion to Christianity. She had never been a very religious person in the past, but her cabin at Samson is close enough to the community church that she can hear the people praying and singing each night there is a service. She and her friend Grace Turner sit outside at night and listen to the sounds emanating from the church and talk about the various aspects of religion and their beliefs.
One day Grace tells Jane...
(The entire section is 669 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 4-6 Summary
Jane discusses Huey P. Long, who was once the governor of Louisiana. Long promoted the rights of poor people and wanted to support them by taxing the rich. His ideas were popular with the poor but obviously not with the rich. He was assassinated. Jane makes references to Long in her story, saying that she believes it was the rich white folks who were responsible for Long’s death. She thinks Long was determined to help poor folks, white and black, by providing them the means of a good education.
She then discusses various teachers during that time who come to her community, determined to teach basic skills to the people who live there. One of the teachers is Miss Lilly. Jane offers part of her quarters for Miss Lilly to live in while she teaches at the plantation school. At first, the adults feel curious about this new teacher, so they stand outside the school and look in through the windows while the children go to school.
But Miss Lilly’s manners and beliefs begin to clash with the reality of the people who live there. She makes demands on the children that they cannot keep. For instance, Miss Lilly wants the girls to come to class with ribbons in their hair and well-ironed dresses on. The boys are to wear ties and shine their shoes. But the children are too poor to buy ribbons or ties. Miss Lilly does not seem to understand this. So the children begin to make excuses for not showing up for school. They have colds or headaches or some other physical ailment that prevents them from attending. Miss Lilly will go looking for the absent students, leaving the children who are sitting obediently in the classroom on their own with no lessons.
Later Miss Lilly demands that the children brush their teeth each morning. When she finds out that they cannot afford brushes, she goes to the local store to order brushes for them. The store owner refuses. He said the white people will punish him. Miss Lilly’s popularity continues in steady decline, and at the end of her first year, she leaves, never to be seen again.
A male teacher, Joe Hardy, replaces Miss Lilly the next year. Joe has a different problem with the students: Joe likes the young girls a little too much. He often keeps them after school to help him grade papers. When the parents have enough of Joe and his lecherous ways, one of the fathers ties Joe to a tree and whips him. When Joe complains to the local sheriff, the officer will have nothing to...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 7-9 Summary
Creoles (people of mixed races such as African and white French) live not too far from the Samson plantation where Jane now works in the kitchen. The Creole people are reluctant to mix with people who live outside of their culture. Blacks from the plantation are not welcomed, and if a Creole ever leaves the village, he or she is not allowed to return.
There is an incident in which two young men from Samson decide to crash a party in the Creoles’ territory. Adults warn the two men to stay away, but the men want to mix with the pretty Creole women and will not be deterred. When they arrive, several Creole men greet them and ask who invited them. The two Samson men, Sappho and Claudee, say Jacques invited them; this is a popular French name and they hope someone around there might be named Jacques. But when a man named Jacques is called to identify the men, of course he does not know either of them. So Claudee makes up another name and this time says Jean told them to come to the party. When Jean appears, Claudee tries to convince Jean that he not only knows them but had graciously extended his invitation and encouraged them to come.
When the truth comes out—that neither Claudee nor Sappho knows anyone in the Creole town—the local man chase them on horses across a wide field and run them into a barbed wire fence. The barbed wire tears a gaping wound in Claudee’s leg, and he nearly bleeds to death by the time he and Sappho reach home.
Another story about the Creoles involves a young woman named Mary Agnes LeFabre. Mary Agnes goes to school and later becomes the teacher for the children at Samson. When she left the Creole community, her father warned her that she would not be able to return. She left anyway. Later, her father visits her and begs her to return, but Mary Agnes does not want to leave her students.
It takes Tee Bob, one of the Samson owners’ sons, almost two years to notice Mary Agnes—but once he does, he cannot take his eyes off her. Tee Bob is supposed to be in college in Baton Rouge, but he finds every excuse to come home. His family is always happy to see him, but they cannot figure out why he comes home so often. But Jane knows what was happening because she sees Tee Bob following Mary Agnes everywhere she goes. One day, Jane approaches Mary Agnes to find out what is going on. Mary Agnes assures her that she looks on Tee Bob as a boy. She has no romantic interest in him,...
(The entire section is 609 words.)
Book 3, Chapters 10-11 Summary
Tee Bob is supposed to be at the party at his house to celebrate his engagement to Judy Major. But he wants to be with Mary Agnes more than ever before. So he leaves his family house and drives his car to what is referred to as the “quarters,” a cluster of cabins in which some of the black workers live. He pulls up to the cabin Jane shares with Mary Agnes.
Mary Agnes is inside, packing her suitcase for a trip to New Orleans. She is startled by the sound of knocking at her door. Before she opens the door, she guesses it might be Clamp, a young boy who often catches the bus to the city with her on weekends. But it is not Clamp. It is Tee Bob, who pushes his way inside. Mary Agnes is worried about his manner and leaves the door open. She notices at once that Tee Bob is very drunk.
Tee Bob walks over to Mary Agnes’s bed and sits down. He insists on talking to her. He has something important to say. As he is telling her how much he loves her, Mary Agnes continues to shake her head. She talks to him softly, as if she were speaking to a brother or a young student. She tells him there is no way they can live together. People will not allow it. They are too different from one another.
Tee Bob insists that he cannot live without her. He must have her. Mary Agnes does not give in. She returns to packing her suitcase, determined to leave the cabin before anyone sees Tee Bob and her together.
The next thing the reader knows, Tee Bob is running out of the cabin and across the field. Clamp sees Tee Bob running from Mary Agnes’s door, and he becomes frightened. He knocks on Jane’s door, but Jane does not answer. So Clamp slowly moves toward Mary Agnes’s door, which is still open. He sees her lying on the floor and believes she has been raped.
This news finally reaches Jane. She had been in the kitchen of the big house talking with a friend of the owners, Jules Raynard. They know Tee Bob has just arrived home and has gone to the library and locked himself inside. Jules tells Tee Bob’s father, Robert, what has happened. Robert tries to get Tee Bob to open the library door. When his efforts fail, Robert uses an axe to bring the door down. Inside he finds his son sitting in a chair. A letter opener has fallen to the floor next to Tee Bob. Tee Bob is dead. Before killing himself, Tee Bob wrote a letter to his mother in which he says Mary Agnes is completely innocent.
As it turns out,...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
Jane tells the story of Jimmy. Jane begins by saying that in her community, people are always looking for someone to lead them. Every time a child is born, she says, the elders look into the baby’s face and to themselves ask if this child is the One who will help them, or save them, or at least lead them out of their misery. Jimmy, Jane says, was that One.
He is born to Shirley Aaron, but she, like many of the other young mothers, spends most of her time in the big cities now, working for better pay than she would receive on the plantation. So Jimmy is put under the care of his great aunt Lena Washington. The population on Samson at this time is primarily made up of young children and old people. Jane is very old by now and retired from working. But she is the one who delivers Jimmy, so she takes a special interest in him.
Jimmy is a troublemaker at first. The old people try to keep an eye on him and hope he will “get religion” before it is too late. Jimmy is also a quick learner and can be very kind. He reads stories from the newspapers for his elders who were illiterate. This includes Jane, who loves to have Jimmy read the sports page. When Jimmy senses that Jane is not feeling well, he makes up stories and tells her that her favorite baseball player did better than he actually did.
By the time Jimmy is born, the owners of Samson have split up most of the plantation into smaller plots. The Creoles received the best land and profited from it; they eventually bought up much of the land that had been given to the black workers. There really was no plantation left, per se. But the old workers, like Jane, even though they no longer till the fields, are allowed to stay in the same cabins they have lived in most of their lives.
Jimmy sees all the changes that are happening, such as the people moving away to the cities and the older people having no ownership of their land or house. When Jimmy goes away to go to school, he learns about what is happening outside of Samson, even outside of Louisiana. It is the era of the Civil Rights Movement and integration. Jimmy meets Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hears him talk about freedom.
Jimmy has been away from Samson for a couple of years. When he returns, he brings with him a message. He wants the people he knew to fight for their rights. The people respond poorly. Jane says it is because most of the people left at Samson had experienced...
(The entire section is 697 words.)