Summary and Analysis: Act I, Scenes 3-4

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1456

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Molly Cunningham: an attractive young woman looking for a temporary place to stay

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It is the next morning, Sunday. Seth and Bertha are getting ready for church. Seth complains that he can’t persuade some local men to financially back him in the tinsmithing business he wants to start, making pots and pans. Bertha tells him to quit wasting time and that the sermon won’t wait for him to finish talking. Jeremy enters the kitchen waving the dollar he won at the previous night’s guitar contest. He asks Seth if he can invite Mattie to Sunday dinner. Then he asks if Seth would permit Mattie to move into the boardinghouse to live with him. Seth reminds him of the increase in money Jeremy will have to pay, but ultimately agrees. Bynum overhears this exchange and attempts to offer Jeremy some advice about women. He says a man can’t just grab hold of a woman and jump into bed with her. A man ought to recognize that when he looks at a woman, he is looking at a whole world, a way of life. If a man realizes this, then the woman can make something out of him, just like his mother did when he was a child. Bynum tells Jeremy that it is foolish to see a woman walking down the street and instantly decide to take up with her. A smart man knows that, like water and berries, a woman can provide all he needs in order to live. Bynum says that Jeremy must learn to see the whole woman and all she can offer him, not only the potential for a physical relationship. Jeremy is too young to heed this advice, for just at that moment, a good-looking young woman, Molly Cunningham, knocks on the parlor door and enters. Jeremy’s heart jumps out of his chest at the sight of her. Molly asks to rent a room for the week until she can catch the next train to Cincinnati. When Seth agrees to board her, she informs him that she’s the kind of woman who likes some company, who doesn’t like to be by herself. Seth tells her that his is a respectable house and that he will not tolerate any riffraff, or fussing and fighting. Molly agrees to Seth’s conditions and exits the room, with Jeremy watching her go. Smitten, Jeremy tells Bynum he thinks he knows what Bynum was talking about.

Scene four takes place later Sunday evening. All the residents of the house except for Herald are sitting around the kitchen table, having finished their communal dinner of fried chicken. Mattie has moved in with Jeremy, and she politely compliments Bertha’s cooking and asks if she can help Bertha with the dishes. Bynum sits comfortably half asleep after the big meal. Seth hollers at him that he wants to “Juba.” Bynum thinks this a good idea and begins to drum on the table, while Seth pulls out his harmonica and begins to play. According to the scene direction, the Juba is a call-and-response dance reminiscent of the Ring Shouts of African slaves. Ring Shouts derived from the meshing of Christian doctrine with African spiritual traditions. In this Juba, Bynum calls the dance, while the others clap hands and shuffle and stomp around the table. The song mentions the Holy Ghost, and Herald overhears this (from another room, off-stage) and bursts in, enraged. The Juba stops abruptly as Herald shouts at the dancers. He tells them the Holy Ghost will come and burn them up. He asks why God became so big. Then he begins to mimic their dance. Seth starts after him, telling him he’s lost his mind. Herald turns on Seth and says the he’s seen some things that he doesn’t have the words to describe. Herald walks toward the front door to leave and is thrown back, collapsing from a vision. Bynum talks him through the vision: Herald says he sees bones rising up out of water. The bones are walking on top of the water, marching in a line, and then begin to sink down. A wave...

(The entire section contains 1456 words.)

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Summary and Analysis: Act I, Scenes 1-2


Summary and Analysis: Act II, Scenes 1-3