Chapter 20 Summary

Reverend Hightower reflects on his childhood and youth prior to coming to Jefferson. His grandfather had been a slave owner at the time of the Civil War, but his father opposed slavery. He eventually joined the Confederate army, though never fired a single shot; he served as a medic. When the war was over, Hightower’s father returned home, put up the uniform he scarcely wore, and did not wear it again for twenty-five years. Continuing with his experience as a medic in the war, he become a doctor and did not speak of his military life. He often preached in country churches, never having a church of his own. When Hightower was a child, he climbed up to the attic and found the uniform. He found a patch of dark blue from a Union soldier’s uniform sewed onto the gray uniform. Hightower developed a quiet fear of his father, his mother being dead. His grandfather had been killed during the war, having deeded the house to his son on the latter’s marriage. Hightower asked the black servant about his grandfather and how many Yankees he killed. His terror was replaced with pride.

Hightower was born when his father was fifty years old. Hightower grew up with the phantoms of his grandfather, his parents, and the ex-slave in their home. After Hightower returned to Jefferson following his studies in seminary, he told his church how his grandfather was shot down in the streets of Jefferson, and how he was destined to return to the town of his childhood. Hightower met his wife (who was the only child of one of the ministers) while he was in college. She saw marriage as an escape from her life at the seminary. They married immediately following his graduation.

In reflection, Hightower sees that he married his wife for his own purposes, not for God’s or hers. He blames himself for her unhappiness, her unfaithfulness, and her death. He thinks of the others in his life, especially Christmas and his inner goodness. He feels that it would be better if he were to die. He imagines that he is waiting for death, and as he waits, he hears the hoof beats of the approaching horses from the past: on one of these rides his grandfather.