Contrast the nurse’s behavior toward James and Octavia with the old lady’s treatment of them. What is the significance of this contrast?  

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The nurse treats James and Octavia with cold detachment. She seems to have no sympathy for James' pain. Her goal is to simply keep the dentist's office running efficiently. So, when it's time for lunch, she announces everyone must leave, even though it's freezing outside and there is really no place the mother and child can afford to get anything to eat. The old lady realizes this. The nurse has simply darted in and out of the waiting room all morning. However, the old lady keeps watch over mother and child. She has watched them pass by her home and knows they need to get out of the cold and eat a decent meal. When her first offer of charity is rejected because of Octavia's pride, she finds a way around it by having James take out empty trash cans. Then she calls the dentist herself to say James and his mother are on the way. One can imply that she is also going to get James seen more quickly. The is of great significance in the story because it shows that not all white people are as cold and uncaring as Octavia believes. Perhaps she doesn't recognize the contrast, but I think James does or he would not have written about the old woman with such sympathy.

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The Sky Is Gray

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