In Nightjohn, discuss the significance of tobacco leaves.

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the book Nightjohn, tobacco is the cash crop on the plantation. The slaves are bought to work in raising and harvesting the valuable crop for their white masters, who grow rich because of their labor. Tobacco, then, is the focus of life on the plantation, and it signifies wealth, and value.

It is significant that when Nightjohn first meets Sarny, he asks her for some tobacco. Sarny reflects,

"I had me some tobacco. It was just shredded bottom leaf that I'd been chewing to spit on the roses but I'd kept some back in a wrapped piece of sacking inside my shirtdress, tied round my waist on a piece of string. I didn't say a word. You come on things, things to keep, and you keep them to trade for other things. Things you need. Like pork fat. Or pennies."

Even at her young age, Sarny realizes the value of tobacco. It is like tender, or money. Nightjohn offers something in exchange for tobacco, and Sarny admits to having some and asks what he will give in exchange. Nightjohn says he will trade the first three letters of the alphabet, the initial step in teaching Sarny how to read. Significantly, Nightjohn establishes the value of reading right there from the start - readingĀ is importantĀ just like tobacco; it is a worthy commodity in exchange for the item which is the symbol of wealth in plantation life (Chapter 3).