Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule

by Harriette Gillem Robinet

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What is Gideon's response when asked about "forty acres and a mule" in Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule?

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By Chapter 8 of Harriette Gillem Robinet's novel Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule, Gideon has finally discovered where to go to inquire about receiving their 40 acres and a mule. In town, he found an office with a sign hung that reads "Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands." Under the sign is the name General Oliver O. Howard, Commissioner, which he knows is the name of the person operating The Freedman's Bureau, so he knows he has found what he is looking for. He feels extremely excited and confident at the prospect of becoming a landowner even when Mr. Freedman warns him that starting his own family farm will not be easy. However, despite his earlier confidence, his brother Pascal is surprised to see his confidence wither in the sight of a white man. Though the man behind the desk is very cordial and gives Gideon exactly what he is asking for without any hassle, Gideon is too afraid to really think clearly.

When the man behind the desk in the office calls Gideon up next to be served, Pascal is surprised to see Gideon's mouth hanging open in terror and his body "shaking like a mouse in a cat's claw" and decides he needs to speak up and ask for "forty acres and a mule" on his brother's behalf. The man very cordially points to unclaimed land on the map and asks where they would like their land. Judith has enough sense to know that land near a creek and a lake would be the most fertile and desirable. In contrast, Gideon only has enough wits about him to repeat everything everyone else has said. Even Pascal begins to show he is too scared to really think clearly. For example, when the man asks if they are too superstitious to own land with a "Ghost Tree" on it, Pascal replies, "Yes, sir, ... we want us a Ghost Tree," and Gideon unthinkingly repeats, "Yes, sir. Ghost Tree."

Hence, the response Gideon receives in Chapter 8 when he asks for his promised forty acres is very amiable; however, sadly, he is too terrified of white men to have been able to ask on his own as he should have.

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