Chapter 10 Summary

As Joe lies semiconscious on the floor, too bruised and beaten to move, the waitress and the others get ready to leave. They debate whether they should take the money Joe offered to give to the waitress, but she declines. Instead, she takes some of her own money and places it in his pocket. They leave, and Joe still is unable to rise. Slowly he regains movement to his limbs and gets to his feet. He does not feel pain, but he gazes at his battered face in the mirror. In another bedroom he finds a bottle almost full of whiskey. He drinks it all, slowly feeling its fire spread out to his limbs. He repeats to himself that he has to get out of there, but he cannot seem to get focused enough to walk to the front door. He finally manages to leave the house and begins walking down the road, starting a journey that will last fifteen years.

Joe continues to travel and drink. His journey takes him throughout the central section of the country; he even goes as far south as Mexico. He has several different jobs as a laborer, but he never stays in one place for very long. He joins the army but deserts after four months (and is never caught). He sleeps with a multitude of women. He tells them he is part Negro when he does not have money to pay them; he hopes they will not raise a fuss about the money. The last time he tries this trick, the woman calls the police. He uses his race to try to pick fights just for the joy of beating someone up. Sometimes he lives with black people and avoids white people. He lives for a while with a woman with exceptionally dark skin. He thinks that, though it has seemed as if he has been running from himself, he is actually running from his intense loneliness.

When he is thirty-three years old, Joe finds himself on a Mississippi country road. He comes upon a large, unpainted house. He asks a boy who lives there and learns that Miss Burden is the sole occupant. Joe sits in the woods and watches the house until all the lights are turned off. In the dark, he climbs in through the kitchen window and eats some peas that were left out on the table. He hears slippered feet approach the kitchen, but he does not try to escape. A woman enters, wearing a faded dressing gown and carrying a candle. She tells Joe that, if it is just food he wants, he will find that.