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Mrs. Fate Rainey is talking to an implied listener, a visiting stranger in Morgana, Mississippi. After Snowdie McLain comes for her butter and leaves, Mrs. Rainey begins to tell Snowdie’s unusual story. It is the story of how badly King McLain treats his wife and how well she takes it, a private story, though everyone knows it. “But,” Mrs. Rainey says, “I could almost bring myself to talk about it—to a passer-by, that will never see her again, or me either.” Mrs. Rainey then relates several astonishing incidents from Snowdie’s married life.

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First, she explains the inexplicable marriage between King McLain, the most desirable man in the area, notorious for the number of children he is supposed to have fathered, and Snowdie Hudson, a teacher and the albino daughter of a respectable family. In Mrs. Rainey’s opinion, King has wanted to shock the community, to keep it off balance.

This desire also accounts for King’s staying away from Snowdie for long periods. Though he works as a traveling salesperson, he is gone too often and too long. The next astonishing incident occurred after his longest absence to that date. He sent Snowdie a note asking to meet her in Morgan’s Woods. Though it is quite difficult to construct an accurate chronology from Mrs. Rainey’s account, it appears that Snowdie’s twin sons were conceived under the tree where she met King, and that King departed immediately afterward, leaving his hat on the bank of the Big Black River to make it appear that he had drowned. However, it may be that he impregnated Snowdie and left his hat on the river bank at a later date.

Mrs. Rainey’s characterization of the town’s reactions to these strange events is amusing. It ranges from a kind of wondering, almost admiring acceptance of the inevitable in King’s behavior, on the one hand, to a kind of outraged sympathy for poor Snowdie, on the other. Though the women of Morgana should think King a scoundrel, they find him irresistibly attractive. Though they want to pity Snowdie, she seems irrepressibly happy. When Snowdie announces her pregnancy to Mrs. Rainey, she is radiant: “She looked like more than only the news had come over her. It was like a shower of something had struck her, like she’d been caught out in something bright.” Snowdie seems to find joy...

(The entire section contains 618 words.)

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