The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Book 3, Chapters 1-3 Summary

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Jane moves about eight miles down the road from her house to a different plantation called Samson. She has wanted a change of scene in the hopes that it would help her get over missing Ned. She considered moving farther away, but a friend told her she could never move far enough to get away from her memories. So when a position opens up at Samson, she applies and is hired.

She will be working in the field again, something she loves. The outdoors make her feel good. The work is difficult but she believes she can do it, and she proves herself worthy once again. After she is at Samson for a good while, the owner offers her a house in the kitchen. Although she does not want to leave the outdoors, she realizes that the kitchen job will involve a lot less labor. She is getting old enough to realize that maybe it is time to be a little gentler with herself, so she accepts.

Jane tells stories about some of the people she meets at Samson. One of the most notable is Black Harriet, a very dark-skinned woman who is the best worker in the field. People refer to her as the Queen. She is both fast and efficient. One day a new woman comes to Samson to work. Her name is Katie Nelson, and she decides to challenge Black Harriet’s title. The workers like to see a challenge; it helps their own workday seem lighter with the distraction of the competing women. Katie Nelson is sure she can beat Black Harriet. No one else thinks she will. On the day of the competition, Katie actually works her way ahead of Black Harriet, beating her down one of the long rows they had claimed as their own. When Black Harriet sees that Katie is making progress and getting ahead of her, Black Harriet loses control. She starts working so fast that in addition to hoeing down weeds, she begins taking down the cotton bushes they are supposed to be protecting. The overseer attempts to stop Black Harriet, but she will not listen. At the end of the day, Black Harriet and Katie are gone; they have both been fired.

Jane tells about her conversion to Christianity. She had never been a very religious person in the past, but her cabin at Samson is close enough to the community church that she can hear the people praying and singing each night there is a service. She and her friend Grace Turner sit outside at night and listen to the sounds emanating from the church and talk about the various aspects of religion and their beliefs.

One day Grace tells Jane she has had a remarkable experience. She has found religion. Afterward, Grace starts attending the church services. This makes Jane wonder why she has not found her way to the church. Then she has a vision. In that vision she is carrying a load of bricks. As she is traveling, she meets a man who asks if she wants to rid herself of her load. When Jane answers in the affirmative, she is told all she has to do is cross the river he points out in the distance.

On her way to the river, Jane meets Ned. He begs her to give him her load; he will carry the bricks across the river for her. Jane is hesitant. She wants the man to prove he is Ned, so she asks him what were the two things he always carried with him when he was a child. This man cannot answer, so Jane concludes the man must be the devil in disguise. Next she meets her husband, Joe Pittman. The encounter is similar. Joe wants to help but Jane refuses his assistance. She finally makes it across the river, where her true Savior meets her and takes her load. When she awakens from this vision, Jane knows she has finally found religion and joins the church.

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