(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A True Story cover image

At the close of a summer day the narrator sits on a farmhouse porch atop a hill. A sixty-year-old black servant, Aunt Rachel, sits respectfully on a lower step cheerfully enduring merciless chafing. As the powerful woman roars with laughter, the narrator asks her how it is that she has never had any trouble. Taken aback, she replies, “Misto C——, is you in ’arnest?” Sobered by her manner, he explains that he has never seen her other than cheerful. Aunt Rachel becomes grave and begins her story.

Rachel tells the narrator that even though she was once a slave, she had a husband as loving to her as he is to his own wife, and that they had seven children whom they dearly loved. She was raised in Virginia (“ole Fo-ginny”), but her quick-tempered mother was raised in Maryland and was fiercely proud of her heritage. One day when Rachel’s little son Henry cut his wrist and forehead badly, everyone flew around, anxious to help him. In their excitement, they spoke back to Rachel’s mother, who snapped, “I wan’t bawn in de mash to be fool’ by trash! I’s one o’ de ole Blue Hen’s Chickens, I is!” She then cleared everyone out and bandaged the boy herself. Rachel adds that she uses her mother’s expression herself when she gets riled.

As Rachel recalls the time when her mistress went broke and auctioned off all her slaves in Richmond, she warms to her subject and gradually rises, until she towers over the narrator. Her recollection of the slave auction is vivid. One by one, her husband and children were sold and she was beaten as she cried in protest. When only her youngest child, Henry, remained, she held him tightly, threatening to kill anyone who touched him. Henry whispered to her that he would run away and work so that...

(The entire section is 722 words.)