Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336
Mr. Norton: the rich, white, northern benefactor whom the narrator chauffeurs in a college-owned car
Jim Trueblood: the poor sharecropper who tells Mr. Norton a story
The narrator drives Mr. Norton along the quiet roadways of the campus where the narrator attends college. The nervous narrator is reassured by Mr. Norton’s confidence and curiosity about the narrator’s future. Mr. Norton and the narrator also talk about Mr. Norton’s daughter, who died suddenly and mysteriously.
After a few chance turns, they reach an area of old cabins. The narrator repeats what is told about Jim Trueblood, owner of one of the cabins—that he had had a child with his own daughter. Despite the narrator’s reluctance, Mr. Norton insists on talking with Jim Trueblood.
Jim Trueblood tells them the story, saying that he never meant to sleep with his daughter, Matty Lou. As he fell asleep in their single bed, he had been thinking about a woman he’d known years before. This, combined with his strange and erotic dream, made him lose control of himself. When his wife saw the “accident” taking place, she tried to kill him for his sin.
The narrator is repulsed and disgusted by the story. Mr. Norton is transfixed, and so dangerously upset that the wondering narrator must suddenly fear for Mr. Norton’s health.
This chapter’s opening paragraphs focus on the quiet beauty of the campus, communicating a sense of loss. The reader cannot be sure that the narrator was successful there.
Even at this black college, indebtedness to whites is present. One of the benefactors of the college, Mr. Norton, is there for Founder’s Day; ironically, the whiteness or blackness of the Founder is never disclosed.
Assigned to chauffeur Mr. Norton, the narrator, despite his awe of Mr. Norton, allows a truth-related catastrophe to occur. The fact that Mr. Norton hears, and is deeply upset by, Jim Trueblood’s story is sure to have its consequences for the narrator.
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