A Summer Tragedy

by Arna Bontemps
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Explain the conflict in "A Summer Tragedy" that led to the consequential, fatal decisions that the Pattons make. How is society to be blamed for the plight of the poor?

In "A Summer Tragedy" by Arna Bontemps, there are several conflicts that lead to the fatal decision that the Pattons make. These include the physical struggles they have in old age, their grief over the loss of their children, the dishonesty of their employer, and their ongoing fear. Society is represented by the white landowner, who can be blamed for the plight of his poverty-stricken sharecroppers because he could make their lives easier but instead chooses to selfishly enrich himself.

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In the short story "A Summer Tragedy" by Arna Bontemps , an old Black couple, the Pattons, get dressed up in their finest clothes as if they are preparing going to church. They are sharecroppers living in a small log cabin on the plantation of a white cotton...

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In the short story "A Summer Tragedy" by Arna Bontemps, an old Black couple, the Pattons, get dressed up in their finest clothes as if they are preparing going to church. They are sharecroppers living in a small log cabin on the plantation of a white cotton grower, and even their best clothes are frayed and moth-eaten. Although they live in deep poverty, Jeff is proud of the work he does. Now, however, he is so old that he can barely manage his tie, and his wife Jenny is blind. They get into their Model-T car and take a drive, and readers do not realize that they are planning to commit suicide together until Jeff drives their car into the river.

There are several conflicts that Bontemps introduces in the story that lead to Jeff and Jenny's fatal decision. The first is introduced at the beginning of the story. The Pattons are very old. Jeff cannot walk properly and has trouble with motor control; we learn later that this is because he has suffered a stroke. Jenny has gone blind. Jeff's mind is in conflict with his failing body, as happens to many people when they become old. He compares his present state to his younger self when he was strong and could work hard, and this is a cause for discouragement and despair.

Another conflict in the story has to do with the couple's ongoing battle with their grief. They lost "five grown children within two years" and their sorrow is still so great that they are unable to speak about their children. Grief such as this is a conflict in which there is no victory.

A further conflict that they have had to put up with for many years is the unscrupulous behavior of the white owner of the plantation, Major Stevenson. No matter how hard Jeff works and how much cotton he manages to grow, he is always in debt to Stevenson. This is another conflict that he cannot win. This is also the conflict in which society is to blame for the plight of the poor. Stevenson could be generous to his sharecroppers and make their lives easier, but he chooses not to so that he can enrich himself.

Finally, Jeff and Jenny are conflicted between the fear of what they are about to do and their resolution to do it. Jeff has been fighting fear for some time, at least ever since his first stroke. He is afraid that if he has another stroke, he will become helpless and have only blind Jenny to take care of him.

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