The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

Start Free Trial

Can evidence from The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman support or refute the claim about the resilience of the human spirit?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Author Ernest Gaines created a memorable composite portrait of one of American literature’s most resilient heroes, Jane Pittman, who was apparently modeled on Augusteen Jefferson. As the character lives to be more than 100 years old, she is associated with numerous eras U.S. history. By using one woman’s life to tie together these eras, Gaines emphasizes that what seems very distant—the time when slavery was legal—is not that long ago; a person born enslaved could have played active roles in the Civil Rights movement.

By beginning Jane’s story as she leaves her enslaved status, Gaines emphasizes her agency and the obstacles that African Americans overcame in the post-Civil War years, as they struggled to find housing and employment. He details her life, primarily as a sharecropper, as she moves, usually with a male partner, through the South. Although these men play important roles in her life, she is clearly the hero and more often than not, must rely on her own intelligence and determination to survive and thrive. The continuity and long history of black activism toward recognition of equal rights is also emphasized, as Ned, Jimmy, and others give their lives in working toward this goal.

In structuring the story to move forward chronologically from the end of the Civil War, he emphasizes that forward motion for all of America. It is only toward the end that she reflects back on the era of slavery, and reveals some of the torments inflicted on her. One notable feature is that Jane herself bears no children—attributable to internal injuries sustained in beatings on the plantation—but figuratively serves as a mother to all the African Americans who came after her.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial