Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

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.

Illustration of PDF document

Download A Summer Tragedy Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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.


Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 335

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 Model T Ford, Jeff feels a familiar thrill, as he surveys the vitality of the crops and natural vegetation. He feels again the determination and pride that always have accompanied his sense of his mental and physical strengths, required for survival on the land, but if he takes his hands from the steering wheel, they shake violently.

Jennie has repeatedly prompted Jeff to make this trip, relying on his courage to match her belief in the rightness of their decision. As they near their destination, however, she becomes wracked by grief at the thought of leaving everything behind. Crying like a child, she questions whether they should continue. Jeff is tortured by his knowledge of what they are about to do and would like to turn back, but he assures his wife that they must be strong. He knows that they have fully considered their fate, and that more reflection would merely lead to the same, inevitable conclusion. They both know that life has become intolerable, and would only get worse. After they regain their resolve and composure, Jeff drives the car into the deep water of the Mississippi.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial