The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Jane Brown is the name taken by a ten-year-old slave girl, Ticey, when a white Union soldier tells her she should not let herself be abused by her white slavemasters. After the soldier leaves, Ticey/Jane tries to assert her independence, and she is beaten for it. This beating destroys her ability to conceive children, and so her only motherhood is caring for Big Laura’s child, Ned, after Big Laura is killed while helping other slaves escape to the North. Jane learns early to repress the instinct for rebellion that she felt when she was Ticey. When Jane decides to live with the horse-breaker Joe Pittman, she takes his name as well, but she never marries and remains “Miss” for all her life.

Miss Jane Pittman is presented by the editor as a character speaking in her own voice. Because of her great age and infirmity, as well as her unpolished language, Jane’s narrative seems unlikely. The rationale for its style is that the editor is an educated schoolteacher who has smoothed out the illiteracies and oral characteristics of the original recitation. Nevertheless, some of her speaking voice is suggested by such expressions as “It might ’a’ been July, I’m not too sure, but it was July or August. Burning up.”

Although Jane tells her own story in her own words, edited as they are, her character is expressed more fully by the relationships she forms with the people in her life. Apart from Big Laura, there are men whose significance for Jane is slow to dawn in her moral development. After the first outburst of defiance that she shows as ten-year-old Ticey, Jane Pittman survives because she succeeds in repressing her passions...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Miss Jane Pittman

Miss Jane Pittman, a former slave and lifelong agricultural laborer and domestic. She is small but wiry, perhaps 110 years old at the time of the narrative. Miss Jane is a living repository of the American black experience in the Deep South. Jane has survived a long life of neglect, abuse, and oppression through a combination of endurance, tenacity, and necessary forbearance. She weathers the brutality and dehumanizing effects of institutionalized racism and the grief of personal loss with a wisdom and vitality that affects even her white social superiors. Her autobiography reflects her personality and attitude, and she shapes the novel with an eyewitness’ sense of historical immediacy. At the end of the novel, in a culmination of her life, she asserts her independence and freedom by staring down a white plantation owner as she leaves for town to lend her support to a civil rights protest.

Ned Douglass

Ned Douglass, Miss Jane’s adoptive son, a Spanish-American War veteran, schoolmaster, and community leader. In his late thirties at the time of his murder, Ned is tall and powerfully muscled, with intense eyes and a natural orator’s persuasive ability. As a small child, Ned is unofficially adopted by Jane, herself barely more than a child, after his mother and infant sister are murdered by nightriders shortly after emancipation. Ned is the child Jane can never have biologically. His departure to the North at the age of seventeen or eighteen devastates her. He is killed because of his indepen-dent thinking and his campaigning for civil rights for black citizens.

Joe Pittman

Joe Pittman, Jane’s common-law husband, a widower with two daughters and an expert breaker of wild horses. Joe accepts Jane’s inability to bear children with compassion. His expertise as a horse tamer leads him to seek employment on a ranch in western Louisiana, where he becomes locally renowned for his courage and ability. Joe is killed trying to tame a huge black stallion. The seven or eight years Jane and Joe spend together are the most carefree and peaceful of Jane’s life.

Jimmy Aaron

Jimmy Aaron, a young civil rights worker born on the Samson plantation. He is shot dead by white racists in the nearby town of Bayonne. Tall and thin, with serious eyes, Jimmy is from birth considered a savior figure in the black community. He is constantly identified as “the One” upon whom black hopes rest for a leader. Jimmy’s intelligence and oratorical skills lead him neither to the pulpit—as universally hoped among the black community—nor to the teacher’s lectern, but into civil rights action after the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After successfully motivating black citizens to attend a protest in...

(The entire section is 1150 words.)