Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 667
Aunt Fe, an elderly woman known and loved throughout her small community in rural Louisiana, is leaving the place where she has lived all of her life. Louise, her kin, has come with her husband, James, to take her north. On this day, members of the community, all of whom feel as though they are kin to Aunt Fe, gather to say farewell. No one wants to see her leave, and those who know her best are sure that she would rather stay where she is. Aunt Clo, one of the old ones, thinks that moving Aunt Fe is like uprooting a tree and finding you did not get the taproot. You destroy the tree and you create only holes: one in the ground and the other in the air, where the lovely branches used to be. Louise, however, believes she has no choice.
Louise’s main motivation for taking Aunt Fe away is fear for the old woman’s safety. There has been a recent bombing, in which a black woman and her children were killed. There is little doubt that the bombing was the work of white racists opposed to the nonviolent struggle for justice waged by blacks involved in the Civil Rights movement, which promises (or threatens) revolutionary changes to a region resistant to change of any kind.
Even benign whites such as Ann-Marie Duvall, whose love for Aunt Fe is genuine, cannot quite understand what black people want. Ann-Marie’s visit to Aunt Fe, in spite of the barriers of sleet, mud, and darkness that must be overcome, indicates her willingness to meet her obligations to these people, as had her father, her grandfather, and her great-grandfather. An irony that escapes Ann-Marie is that her great-grandfather’s relationship to black people had been that of master to slave.
Few of the blacks who have gathered to say good-bye to Aunt Fe are involved in social agitation. They are more directly involved in the timeless battles of families, neighbors, and generations. Elias, for example, suffers under the commanding eye of his mother, Aunt Lou. He wants to get rid of the useless mule, Mr. Bascom, but Aunt Lou promised her late husband that she would look after Mr. Bascom, and Aunt Lou does not make promises lightly.
Louise’s husband, James, does not know what to make of these country folk. He does not understand why Louise, whom he calls “Baby,” insists on taking Aunt Fe north. The people of the community, in turn, have their doubts about James. Leola finds his practice of embracing and nuzzling his wife in the presence of others distasteful and more: A man who carries on that way in public, Leola believes, has something to hide.
A leader in the civil rights struggle is Emmanuel, a young man who has known Aunt Fe since his boyhood. It was from Aunt Fe that he learned the gruesome details of his father’s lynching. He also learned from her that he must not respond to the violence and hatred that killed his father with violence and hatred of his own. Now, Emmanuel finds himself the target of resentment from some members of his own community; they believe that people like him, stirring up the resentment of the whites, are ultimately responsible for outrages such as the bombing and the deaths that result.
Emmanuel understands the feelings that drive people to say such things and sympathizes, but he believes that unless the struggle goes on, those who have already died will have died in vain. Louise says that what Emmanuel does is up to him, but she is taking Aunt Fe away before it is her house that is bombed. As Emmanuel takes his leave, Aunt Fe utters a prayer that God will be with him.
Aunt Fe does not leave after all. During the night she dies. Her friend Aunt Lou, who is with her at the end, asks her to tell the others that Lou is not far behind.