A Summer Tragedy Summary
by Arna Bontemps

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A Summer Tragedy Summary

This short story was written during the worst of the Great Depression in 1932 and reflects the bleak realities of many poor Americans. The setting is the dilapidated rented house of an old sharecropper couple whose health is failing. They speak in a southern black vernacular, which adds to the realism.

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Jeff is an old farm laborer with a limp who has already suffered a stroke and can rarely get out to work anymore. He fears another stroke will render him unable to help his wife, Jennie, who is frail, blind, and whose voice is failing. Their clothes have holes. They love and support each other but can't imagine going on this way.

They decide to drive their ramshackle car off a cliff. They dress in their best black clothes. Jeff's hands are shaking as they go out, but Jennie urges him on. He wishes the car had taken longer to start as they head down the ugly and fenceless dirt road. They see the same poverty all around them. As they drive, Jeff second guesses their decision and reviews their reasons. There is no way they can ever get out of debt, and their children are dead so they have no reason to hope. Jennie maintains her resolve until she sees a friend's house and begins to cry, knowing they are approaching the cliff. Now Jeff must be strong. The car goes off the edge and sinks below the surface of the water.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jeff Patton has farmed the same acres on Greenbriar Plantation for forty-five years. He loves the land, but life has been physically demanding and the shares system has kept him locked in poverty. A recent stroke has left him lame, and he fears that another will make him a helpless burden on his wife, Jennie, who has been blind for years and is now frail. Both are sound of mind, but their life has been reduced to a series of losses, including the deaths of five adult children in the last two years. They share a state of constant grief and anxiety.

Jeff struggles to don the moth-eaten formal attire that he wears only on rare occasions, such as weddings. He feels excitement and fear as he and Jennie prepare for a trip. A short time later, driving through the countryside with Jennie in their old...

(The entire section is 578 words.)