The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Book 1, Chapters 5-6 Summary

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Miss Jane cannot decide which way to go. The river is too wide and too deep to cross, but she does not know if she should turn right or left. She asks Ned to decide, and they follow his suggestion. They walk for a very long time until they hear voices. Miss Jane hides in the bushes again and insists that Ned be quiet. She listens to the conversation, and when she hears the word nigger, she realizes that the voices she is hearing must belong to slaves.

She runs out from the bushes and is amazed at what she finds. There is a large group of black people sitting next to a big wagon filled with furniture. She cannot fathom how slaves could possess that much furniture. Then she sees a white woman and two white children.

The white woman is curious about Jane, especially when Jane asks if she is in Ohio. Everyone laughs at this. The white woman takes compassion on the girl, offering her food and offering to take her in. The woman moved to Texas during the Civil War and is now just coming back to the home she left. She has been traveling a long time and hopes the Yankees have not destroyed her place. She tells Miss Jane to come with her. She treats her people kindly, she says, and would never beat anyone.

Miss Jane turns down the offer. She must get to Ohio. She asks the white woman to tell her which direction she should go. The woman again asks Miss Jane to come with her. She tells her that there is no Ohio, or at least there is no place like the one Miss Jane has imagined. When Jane tells her that her mother was beaten to death and that she never knew her father, the woman insists that Jane join them. When Jane adds that she must go to Ohio because the Yankee soldier Mr. Brown is waiting for her, the woman again tries to persuade Jane that her vision of freedom will never be realized. Mr. Brown could be dead. Even if he is alive, her chances of finding him are all but impossible.

Jane will not be deterred. She merely asks if the woman knows where to best cross the river. There is a ferry, the woman says, but that will cost money. Jane wants to know where she can get money. The woman again feels sorry for this young girl who is so innocent and knows so little about the life ahead of her. Again Jane refuses to stay with her.

Miss Jane and Ned walk until they see the ferry. It is on the other side of the river, so they wait for it to come back. When it arrives, they try to get on the boat like the other people are doing, but a man stops them. He is the captain of the ferry and refuses to take them anywhere without pay.

Jane and Ned spend the rest of the day waiting and watching the ferry going back and forth across the river. At night, a man rides up on a horse. When he sees Jane and the boy, he asks them what they are waiting for. Jane tells him they want to cross the river. Then man asks them what they are waiting for and waves them onto the boat. It turns out that the man is a government official sent from the North to aid freed slaves. He takes Jane and Ned to a government-run house for freed slaves. There they meet Sarah, a black woman who bathes and feeds them.

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