The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Book 1, Chapters 7-8 Summary

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As Jane settles in for the night, she begins to more fully sense what freedom might be. She is wearing clean clothes, she has been well fed and washed, and she is about to fall asleep in a comfortable bed. She thinks she could stay at this house for African slave orphans for a long time.

However, her thoughts are shattered when she hears a young boy holler from across the hall—in the room where Ned is sleeping. She jumps out of bed and runs over to the next room to make sure Ned is all right. All the other boys are sitting up in their beds except for Ned and a boy next to Ned. It is the boy next to Ned who has been screaming and sobbing. When a white man appears, he questions the boys and discovers that the boy next to Ned had tried to take the two stones Ned was holding. These are the same two stones that his mother, Big Laura, had used to start a fire. It is all Ned has left of his mother. So when the other boy tried to take them away, Ned hit the boy in the head.

Once the white man sorts out the details of the incident, he tells Ned that he must get rid of those stones. If he does not, the white man will take them from him. At this pronouncement, Jane’s ire rises. She tells Ned to keep the stones. She also says to the white man that Ned has a right to keep them because they remind him of his dead mother.

The next day, Jane and Ned follow the routine of the house, which includes reading and math lessons. Jane’s mind is not quite ready to settle down to studies. She feels anxious and wants to move. She decides that freedom means more than living at this orphanage. She must find Ohio.

She packs up their few belongings and says good-bye to some of the other children and adults. She feels them looking at her as if to say that she will soon be back. But she is determined not to return to that place. That is not the freedom she is looking for.

She leads Ned to the river, and they follow its banks until they come to a military settlement of Yankee soldiers. It is the first time she has seen a black man in uniform. He teases her when she tells him she is looking for Mr. Brown. There is a Colonel Brown, he tells her, but he is too busy to see a little girl. Jane disregards him and marches into the building the soldier has pointed out as Colonel Brown’s office.

Once inside, Jane waits until she has an opportunity to slip into the colonel’s office. When she sees the man, she is disappointed. He is old with white hair and a white mustache. He is not the Mr. Brown she had met, who gave her a new name. The colonel offers her no help, so she and Ned continue their journey to Ohio.

Back in the swamp, Jane and Ned come across a man with a bow and arrow and a rabbit cooking on a spit. He is a black man, and Jane is glad to see him. The man cannot believe Jane and Ned are all alone. He tells Jane that he has seen a lot of people traveling through the swamp, but none of them were as young as Jane and Ned. He offers the children food and suggests that they turn around and go back to the plantation. Jane refuses. In the morning, Jane wakes up to another meal left for her and Ned. The man who cooked the food is gone.

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