The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Book 2, Chapters 7-9 Summary

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Jane and Joe make enough money over the years to buy a small farm of their own, but Joe tells Jane that he does not like farming. What he does best is breaking wild horses, and that is what he wants to do. Joe’s reputation grows. People come from all around to watch him ride some of the meanest horses, which no one else could ride.

Jane is worried about Joe. She starts to have dreams of his death. She is afraid every time he breaks one of the horses that he is going to have a terrible accident and be killed. She tells Joe about her fears. She wants him to stop riding the wild horses but Joe will not hear of it. He tells her he feels that God put him on earth to ride horses. So that is what he must do.

Joe and the other ranch hands leave to go round up some more wild horses. They come back with several of them, and a black stallion particularly catches Jane’s attention. There is something about that horse she does not like. Then she remembers that this is the horse in the dream in which Joe is killed. She begs Joe not to ride that horse. Joe refuses to listen to her.

Jane rides to town to visit with a woman who practices magic. The woman confirms that Joe is going to die. He will die no matter what Jane does, the woman says, so there is no sense in trying to stop him. Jane insists that the woman give her a magical powder that will keep Joe from riding the black horse. When Jane returns home, she grows impatient. She also loses confidence in the powder the woman gave her.

Because Jane does not want to take any chances, she goes out to the corral in the middle of the night and opens the gate so the black stallion can run free. When Joe sees the horse run, he gets on his own horse and follows him with some of the other ranch hands. Hours later, when the other ranch hands return, Jane sees Joe’s body tied across his horse’s saddle. The men tell Jane that Joe had lassoed the stallion but the stallion was too strong for him. The wild horse dragged Joe through the swamps, which is how he died.

After Joe’s death, Jane says other men wanted to have a relationship with her, but she told them all that no one would ever replace Joe. None of them, in Jane’s mind, measured up to Joe’s worth.

Time jumps forward, and after a twenty-year absence, Ned returns to Louisiana. When Jane looks up from where she is fishing, she knows the big man standing behind her is Ned even though he has grown into a strong man who looks nothing like the Ned she last saw. She says she can feel it is him. Ned has come home to teach. He has brought his wife and his three children.

At dinner that night, Ned talks about Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass and their teachings about “colored people” coming together to learn and work together. Ned’s discussion about these teachings makes Jane nervous. When Ned goes out into the community over the next few days, he talks about building a school so he can teach the lessons of Washington and Douglass. But no one wants to support him. They know that learning these things will only cause trouble. They have already seen too many killings and do not want to see any more. So Ned begins teaching from his home. Although most of the black people are afraid of what Ned wants to teach, some come to his classes. Jane knows the white people are watching Ned, and she fears for his life.

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