Chapter 1 of Margaret Walker's Jubilee , a novel set against the backdrop of the dramatic changes in the South shortly before and after the Civil War, introduces many of the characters to the reader. In this chapter a slave named Hetta, who is but twenty-nine years old, has...
Chapter 1 of Margaret Walker's Jubilee, a novel set against the backdrop of the dramatic changes in the South shortly before and after the Civil War, introduces many of the characters to the reader. In this chapter a slave named Hetta, who is but twenty-nine years old, has born fifteen children, some of whom are those of the plantation owner, Master John Morris Dutton. Because she has bore so many children, Hetta's body is worn out; her last baby has been born dead, and the midwife has been unable to remove all the dead tissue from Hetta's womb. Consequently, Hetta has hemorrhaged and lies painfully awaiting death because the doctor has arrived three days late. Granny Ticey has done all she can and dejectedly waits along with those outside.
In her weak, raspy voice, Hetta asks to see her daughter named Vyry, a sandy-haired, grey-eyed girl, light-skinned child, whose father is Master John. The two-year-old child is kept by Mammy Sukey at the Master's other plantation, away from his family because she bears a very strong resemblance to Mrs. Dutton's daughter, who is the same age.
Now the urgency in Brother Ezekiels's voice seemed to rouse the dying woman. Her eyes flickered, and her lips moved. She put up her bony hands and fluttered them like a bird. Then with great effort she spoke, raspy and indistinct, but clear enough for them to know she was saying "Vyry?"
Little Vyry is frightened by the sight and smell of Hetta and only calls her "Mama" because she is told to do so. After her great effort, Hetta falls back in fatal exhaustion and responds to Brother Ezekiel's query about what he can do for her with the one word, "pray."
Certainly, this scene establishes the alienation of the protagonist of the novel, Vyry, who because she looks too white, has been sent to the other plantation, away from her mother. Even Jake, Hetta's huband rejected her as an infant, for when Hetta nursed her, he would pinch the child. In this scene, too, Walker sets the stage for the challenges that Vyry will later encounter because of her unique looks and situation in life.