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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 712

Lov Bensey, husband of Pearl, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Jeeter Lester, feels low in his mind when he stops by the Lester house on his way home with a bag of turnips. Pearl, he complains, refuses to have anything to do with him; she will neither sleep with him nor...

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Lov Bensey, husband of Pearl, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Jeeter Lester, feels low in his mind when he stops by the Lester house on his way home with a bag of turnips. Pearl, he complains, refuses to have anything to do with him; she will neither sleep with him nor talk to him.

The Lesters live in a one-room shack that is falling apart. They have nothing to eat but pork rind soup. Jeeter is trying to patch an inner tube so that the Lester car, a nondescript wreck that was refused even by the junk dealer, can be used to carry firewood to Augusta. Jeeter’s harelipped daughter, Ellie May, charms Lov away from his bag of turnips. While she and Lov are flirting in the yard in front of the shack, the other Lesters pounce upon the bag of turnips. Jeeter grabs it and runs into the scrub woods, followed by his worthless son Dude. Jeeter eats his fill of turnips. He gives Dude several and even saves a handful for the rest of the family. They return from the woods to find Lov gone. Sister Bessie, a woman preacher, comes for a visit. Bessie, middle-aged, and Dude, sixteen, are attracted to each other. Bessie, upon leaving, promises to return to elope with Dude.

The Lesters are starving. Jeeter has long been unable to get credit at the local stores in order to buy seed, fertilizer, and food. His land is exhausted, and there is no chance of reclaiming it because of Jeeter’s utter laziness. Jeeter and his wife Ada had seventeen children. Twelve of them survived, and all except Ellie May and Dude left home.

Bessie returns and announces that God gave her permission to marry Dude, but Dude refuses to listen until Bessie says that she is planning to buy a new car with some money that her late husband left her. She and Dude go to town and buy a new Ford, the loud horn of which Dude highly approves. At the county courthouse, over the mild protestations of the clerk because of Dude’s youth, Bessie gets a marriage license. Back at the Lester shack, Bessie, using her authority as preacher, marries herself to Dude. The newlyweds go for a ride in their new car; they return to the tobacco road at sundown with one fender of the car completely ruined. They ran into a farm wagon on the highway and killed an African American man, whom they left lying by the roadside.

Jeeter, eager to get food and snuff, persuades Bessie and Dude to take him to Augusta with a load of firewood. Their arrival in Augusta is delayed, however, by the breakdown of the car. A gallon and a half of oil poured into the crankcase enables them to get to the city, where Jeeter fails to sell one stick of wood. The trio sells the car’s spare tire, for which they can see no use, and buy food. They mistake a brothel for a hotel; Bessie is absent from Jeeter and her young husband most of the night.

During the return trip to the tobacco road, Jeeter unloads the wood beside the highway and sets fire to it. He is about to suggest another trip in the car, but Bessie and Dude ride away before he can stop them. As the car rapidly falls apart, the warmth between Bessie and her young husband cools. In a fight between Bessie and the Lesters over Jeeter’s right to ride in the car again, Dude sides with his wife. After all, the car still runs a little.

Meanwhile, Pearl runs away from Lov; she manages to escape after he ties her to their bed. Jeeter advises Lov not to look for Pearl but to take Ellie May in her place. He then tells Ellie May to bring back food and clothes from Lov’s house. The grandmother, who was run over by Bessie’s Ford, dies in the yard.

Jeeter anticipates seeding time by burning the broomsedge off his land. A wind blows the fire to the house while Jeeter and Ada are asleep. The destitute sharecroppers are burned to death on the land that Jeeter’s family once owned as prosperous farmers.

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