What is Denise Lewis Patrick's short story titled "Son's Story" about?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The four-part short story "Son's Story," in Denise Lewis Patrick's anthology titled A Matter of Souls, is a story of bitter resentment against social injustice,  eventual acceptance of circumstances, and rebellion against social injustice.

In the beginning, the story is set in Mississippi during the days of segregation. Jimmy Lee, who narrates Part I of the story, has just turned 21 and cannot wait to vote in his first national election, the same election in which General Eisenhower ran against Aldai Stevenson, in 1956. The whites of the community try to disenfranchise the blacks by secretly moving the voting location; however, Jimmy Lee, his father, his Uncle Booker, and a few other black vets who fought on D-Day during World War II discover the new location and try to demand their right to vote. Sadly, all black men who show up at the library to vote are killed in a drive-by shooting.

The rest of the story is narrated by Son, the cousin of Jimmy Lee and the son of Jimmy Lee's Uncle Booker. Son had skipped school to watch the voting take place and witnessed the deaths of his father and Jimmy Lee. Son's Aunt Willa, wife of Jimmy Lee, whisks him off to live with her in Washington, DC, since Son believes he is now an orphan, having been led to believe his mother died years prior. However, Willa is poor, and Son grows into his teen years feeling unloved because Willa feels all her love and resources must be dedicated to her own daughter. As a result of the terrible injustice he witnessed earlier and feeling unloved, he grows up to feel angry and bitter and to behave disrespectfully. To make matters worse, Willa soon discloses to Son that his mother, who had abandoned him as a child, is still alive, and when Willa decides she can no longer take care of Son, she sends him off to his mother.

His mother, too, gives him no love, and, as Son phrases it in his narrative, teaches him "how to be self-sufficient and self-absorbed, that there [is] no such thing as love." When he is old enough to enlist in the military, during the Vietnam War, he leaves but not before his mother tells him that the man who was killed by gunfire in Part I of the story was not his real father, that his real father had been a lover she had taken during her marriage and had been killed in a bar. The discovery that even his real father had been killed fills him with even more rage.

By the end of the story, he returns home from Vietnam to realize he has absolutely nothing in his life since his mother died some years earlier. He understands that no one in his life was given a decent chance at life and that this understanding has made him feel bitter and angry throughout his whole life. Yet, he also realizes that his bitterness and anger have driven anyone out of his life who could have cared, such as Willa and his mother. By the end of the story, he knows it is time to let go of his bitterness and anger, to accept that society has been unjust, and to do what he can to put an end to social injustice.

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