The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

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In The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, why were two children found hanging in sacks in a tree?

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I believe that being "smoked" is a disciplinary measure that was being used by Oscar, the father of Tee Bo and Tee Lo.  Apparently, the boys had sassed their elders, because when Miss Lilly  storms over to Oscar, Viney, and Aunt Julie and demands, " y'all crazy?", the only thing anyone says in explanation is, "no business sassing old people".  Miss Lilly responds, "You whip children when they sassy old people, you don't smoke them".

It would appear that "smoking" children may have been a method of discipline bordering on child abuse.  Even back then, when whipping a child was acceptable, Viney warns Oscar to be careful, because "the law (is) on (Miss Lilly's) side".  Whether the law would support Miss Lilly by virtue of her position as a teacher or because of the barbarity of the punishment is not clear.  Oscar, however, is unfazed, and bodily removes Miss Lilly from his property.  When Miss Lilly turns to the plantation owner, Robert Samson, for help, he advises her "to stick to her teaching and let people raise their children the way they wanted to" (Chapter 30).

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