Chapter 1 Summary
Lena Grove is walking from Alabama to Mississippi in search of Lucas Burch, the father of her child. Lena was raised in a three-room log cabin, the youngest child of aging parents who both died during the same summer. She goes to live with her older brother, McKinley, who is twenty years older than she is. Lena works and cares for her sister-in-law, who is always either pregnant or recovering from being pregnant. When she is a teenager, Lena crawls out through the window of the lean-to in which she sleeps. She quickly finds herself pregnant. Her brother and sister-in-law treat her harshly, so eventually she crawls through the window one last time to find Lucas Burch. She has been on the road for a month now, asking at each village and town if anyone knows where she can find Lucas. No one knows anything about him, and they send her on to the next town. Eventually she has reason to believe he is heading for Jefferson in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi.
Two men, Armstid and Winterbottom, sit in the shade of Winterbottom’s stable and watch Lena pass. They wonder where such a very pregnant, young girl could be heading, but they can tell she knows where she is going. Armstid gives her a ride in his wagon. He offers her a place to stay, although he sees she has no wedding ring and he knows what his wife will think about this. Indeed, his wife is not pleased; she feels contemptuous of how blind men can be about a woman in trouble.
Because Lena had said she was looking for Lucas Burch, Armstid introduces her to his wife as Mrs. Burch. Lena confesses that Burch is not her name, nor is she married. She explains that Lucas left but promised to come back for her. When he did not, she decided to go in search of him. Along the road, she heard that he is in Jefferson, working in the planing mill.
Despite her contempt for Lena’s condition, Mrs. Armstid smashes her piggy bank and gives its contents to her husband to give to Lena, telling him to take her away in the morning. He drives her up to the store. She tells her story to the men sitting there. One of them says he knows a man named Bunch who has worked at the mill for seven years, but it is not the Burch she wants. Thinking of the money that Mrs. Armstid gave her, Lena goes into the story feeling rich and buys a can of sardines, some cheese, and crackers. There is a wagon going into Jefferson willing to give her a ride, which she accepts gratefully. When they cross over the hill into Jefferson, they see smoke from a burning house.