The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Book 2, Chapters 4-6 Summary

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Jane talks about Joe Pittman, a widower with two young children. She noticed him when Ned was still living with her, but she paid little attention to him then. The reason for her lack of interest in the beginning was that she wanted to focus all her attention on Ned. Then after Ned left, she still did not want to let Joe know that she might want to have a relationship with him. She had found out earlier that she was barren, and she did not think Joe would still want her if he knew.

Joe asks Jane to be his wife but she refuses several times. She has grown to like him, but she is still concerned about her barrenness. Eventually, she confesses the reason she has been denying him. Joe does not care about her inability to have children as long as she is willing to help him raise his daughters. They eventually marry but not legally. They decide just to live together, the way slaves used to do.

Joe is tired of working for Colonel Dye and wants to look for a better job. He is good with horses and thinks he can find a position that would pay more money. He also does not like the way the colonel treats the people who work for him. Jane is not opposed to leaving the plantation, but she will not go until she hears from Ned. Ned has been gone for a year, and Jane has not received any word about where he is or what he is doing. Finally a letter arrives. Ned had written almost a year ago, but the letter took a circuitous route to get to Jane. In this first letter, Ned was doing well. There were many people who were following him to Kansas. He was responsible for finding them places to live and work. The white people in Kansas were helpful in finding jobs and providing clothes and food. But as the numbers of former slaves increased, the white people begin to turn against them; they eventually forced them out of town with guns.

After Jane tells Ned that she is married, Ned announces his wishes to attend school. A nice family has taken him in and is offering him the chance to obtain an education. But until then, Ned had felt responsible for Jane and did not want to take the time to study when he could be working and making extra money to send home. Now that someone else is helping Jane, Ned starts taking classes at night and eventually earns a teaching certificate. A few years later, Ned will come back to Louisiana to teach.

Joe finds a new job close to the border between Louisiana and Texas—almost one hundred miles away. When he comes back home to announce the news to Colonel Dye, the colonel is angry. Joe is a hard-working man, and the colonel knows it. Colonel Dye offers Joe a piece of land that he can sharecrop if he stays. But Joe insists he wants to go. So the colonel says Joe can go but that he owes him money. Joe never borrowed money from the man, so he asks the colonel how he came to be in debt. The colonel reminds Joe of a time some members of the Ku Klux Klan almost killed him. It was the colonel who had saved his life, and that cost money.

Joe walks all the way back to where he had found the new job to borrow the money. He returns on a horse. After handing the money over, the colonel tells Joe that he still owes him interest. Joe finds the extra money by selling his pig, some furniture, and his gun. Then Joe puts his girls on the horse, and he and Jane walk to the new job. That night, Jane says all she and Joe could do, after the children were in bed, was grin at one another. They were very happy about starting a new life.

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