Last Reviewed on April 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1557
Chapter 6: Wandering
The moment of her mother’s death was “the end of a phase of my life,” Zora recalls. Mama grew sick and died at home when Zora was nine years old. Zora characterizes death as a creature with “soft feet” and “square toes” who had been secretly living in her yard all along, just waiting to claim a soul.
Extreme guilt mingled with grief when Zora was unable to fulfill Mama’s final requests of her. The first request was that no one remove the pillow beneath Mama’s head as she lay dying. The second request was that the clock and mirror in the room of her death remain uncovered. In spite of Zora’s protestations, the adults in the room insisted on observing both of these death rituals. Zora grappled with guilt for years afterward.
As a traveling preacher, Papa felt unable to care for Zora by himself, so he shipped her off to boarding school in Jacksonville with her siblings Sarah and Bob. As Zora motored the winding road to Jacksonville, her first childhood premonition—driving along a curved road and drowning in grief—came true.
In Jacksonville, Zora felt a separateness due to her race that she hadn’t experienced in Eatonville. She didn’t make friends, but she thrived academically. Nevertheless, she missed home and dreamed longingly of “the loving pine, the lakes, the wild violets in the woods and the animals I used to know.”
Zora concludes the chapter by recounting a time when she thought she saw Mama sitting on a porch in Jacksonville. Her heart fluttered at the thought that maybe there had been a mistake and Mama was still alive. She soon realized that she was incorrect and states, “I accepted my bereavement.”
Chapter 7: Jacksonville and After
Sarah had always been the favored sister, Zora remembers. Even though Sarah wasn’t interested in music lessons, Papa bought her an organ. When Zora asked for music lessons, Papa told her to “dry up” or she’d be whipped.
In Jacksonville, Sarah’s grief over Mama was too much to bear, and she soon departed for home. Her homesickness soured, however, when she discovered that Papa had already remarried. Zora remained at school even after an administrator, whom she calls “the Second in Command,” informed her that Papa hadn’t paid her tuition. To stay on, Zora worked for her room and board, scrubbing floors and working in the kitchen.
Zora fell in love with the school president when he congratulated her for winning a spelling bee. “He had such a big laugh that I made up my mind to hurry up and get grown and marry him,” she recalls. To subsidize her fantasy, Zora composed fictional letters from the president to herself that brought her to tears. The one-sided love story fizzled one day when the president spanked Zora for placing a wet brick in the bed of one of her teachers.
When school let out, Zora waited for Papa to come get her, but he never did. Instead, he informed the school that they could adopt her. This wasn’t possible, so the Second in Command placed boat and train fare in Zora’s hand and sent her home. Zora fell in love with the excitement of the boat and train rides.
When she finally arrived home, Zora became enraged when she realized that her stepmother was sleeping in Mama’s featherbed. She felt that Mama’s featherbed belonged to her, not the stepmother. The stepmother encouraged Papa to beat Zora over the issue: “She thought a good beating for me ought to settle ownership once and for all.” Zora’s brother John stood up to defend his sister, but the struggle prompted Zora to move out of the house. At this point, her second premonition, in which she was “homeless and uncared for,” came true.
Chapter 8: Backstage and the Railroad
Cast off by Papa and his new wife, Zora drifted between the homes of relatives and friends for a...
(The entire section contains 1557 words.)
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