The Vanishing Half

by Brit Bennett

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Part II: Maps (1978) Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on August 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1349

Chapter 4

Ten years after the principal narrative thread of Part I, Desiree’s daughter Jude goes to Los Angeles to attend UCLA on an athletic scholarship. As she is heading there on a Greyhound bus, she recalls numerous incidents and impressions from her girlhood in Mallard. Early Jones, who is in a relationship with her mother, has bonded with Jude and essentially become her stepfather. 

Much of her childhood was passed with the special awareness of the darkness of her skin, with other kids in school cruelly joking that when she stands up in front of the chalkboard she blends in with it. She is nicknamed “Tar Baby.” When she first attends school, the other children are skeptical that Desiree is her mother because of the contrast in their skin shade, and Jude herself asks her mother, “why don’t I look like you?” Athletics—especially running—provides an escape for her from the troubling interactions with others. Despite her bond with Early, Jude finds his on-and-off presence and his relationship with Desiree to be troubling. In some ways Jude becomes closer to her grandmother Adele, whom she calls maman, than to her mother. 

Early comes and goes, sustaining a relationship with Desiree but not exactly living with her. She meets him, to her mother’s criticisms, at a boarding house in the area as she holds down her job as a waitress at Lou’s Egg House. Meanwhile, Early is still “tracking” Stella, finding where she had lived in Boston, but nothing else, and not wishing to discover more about her. 

In Los Angeles, Jude meets a man named Reese Carter, who is from the south but, like almost everyone else, has never heard of Mallard, Louisiana. Jude puzzles over the wideness of the world, realizing that there is so much of it that she has so far not experienced at all. 

Chapter 5

Reese’s back-story is revealed. He is a transgender man, having been assigned female at birth as Therese Anne Carter. Moving from El Dorado, Texas, to California, he gets a job at a gym in Los Angeles and begins hormone treatments on his own. When he meets Jude, Reese has not yet had any surgical reassignment, and he keeps his chest tightly covered with bandages under his shirt. Reese aspires to be a photographer. In the darkroom developing photos, he reveals his story to Jude, who reflects on the ability of men or women to be two people at the same time. She recalls her own thoughts about possibly trying to lighten her skin—and the potions her grandmother made her that would supposedly accomplish this. But Reese tells her that her dark skin is beautiful. Reese has shed his entire family history. He asks Jude about her first kiss, and she tells him it was with a boy back in Mallard named Lonnie. The parallel between Reese’s and Jude’s forms of Otherness is clear.

Reese introduces Jude to a group of his alternative-lifestyle friends, including a man named Barry who performs part-time as a female impersonator. More of Jude’s relationship with Lonnie during her teenage years is revealed. Her connection with him was sexual, but he wasn’t her “boyfriend,” because he felt nothing personal for her. It contrasts with her present relationship with Reese: as yet there is nothing sexual between them, but both feel strongly about each other as people. 

In the summer after her first year at UCLA, Jude moves from the dormitories and into Reese’s apartment. Although Jude presumably knows Reese is biologically still female, when she surprises him in the apartment and sees the tight bandages...

(This entire section contains 1349 words.)

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that are bruising him, she urges him to take them off, saying she doesn’t care what he looks like. Reese gets angry, saying that his appearance, or what he wishes it to be, is not “about you.” After an argument Reese reveals he has found a doctor who will perform reassignment surgery on him. Though it appears at first as though their relationship has been altered or even brought to an end, Reese and Jude’s love for each other has actually been strengthened by the incident. 

Chapter 6

Desiree and Jude speak on the phone and Desiree realizes something is different about her daughter. Desiree is aware, before Jude tells her, that Jude is seeing someone. The love between Jude and Reese has now become a sexual relationship, though Reese still does not want Jude to “see him.” Jude tells her mother vaguely that this is because Reese “keeps her out,” and she adds that he is different from other boys. But her mother counters that this fact about him means he is just like all the others.

Jude gets a job working for a catering firm, hoping to earn money for Reese’s surgery. Partly because of Reese, Jude becomes interested in anatomy. The catering job takes up more and more of her time, and Reese complains that the two hardly see each other anymore. The clients of the catering business, who live in upscale areas such as Venice Beach and Santa Monica, cause Jude to focus more and more on the social hierarchy of America. Jude dreams about her father, Sam, acknowledging to Reese that he is “not a good man” but somehow wishing that he will come looking for her. Both she and Reese realize that they carry the burden of having had remote or unsatisfactory parents. Reese’s father was unsympathetic upon discovering that Reese was beginning to act like a boy. Reese reveals to Jude that his father beat him physically. 

The backstory of Reese’s early time in Los Angeles is revealed. Hungry and drifting about, he first meets Barry, who understands immediately that Reese was “transsexual,” a word Reese has not heard before. Barry becomes something of a mentor to Reese, cutting his hair for him and helping him to arrive at a new sexual identity. 

At a party in Beverly Hills for her catering job, Jude meets a white girl about her own age, who tells her that she goes to USC. Jude finds it interesting that the two of them are thus crosstown rivals. Then a woman with dark hair arrives at the party, and when Jude catches a glimpse of her, she is so startled that she drops the bottle of wine she is holding. 


This section, which takes place a decade after the main narrative has begun, focuses on Desiree’s daughter, Jude, and her new life on the West Coast as a young adult. In her meeting with Reese, a transgender man, Jude finds someone of a similar nature, a lonely and marginalized individual. All along Jude has continued to be painfully conscious of her Otherness because of her dark complexion, regardless of who her family, friends, or associates are and whether or not they are black or white. There is also something about her appearance, namely her lanky frame, that doesn’t conform to the supposedly ideal feminine form. She and Reese find each other and fall in love partly because they share the quality of being outsiders. Neither conforms to the expectations and false standards of society. 

In some sense, Jude’s Otherness is an extension of Desiree’s. In spite of their lighter complexions, Desiree and Stella aren’t conformists either. The insular community of Mallard is not what either one of them has wished to be a part of, though Desiree has returned to it. Her relationship with Early is partly a protest against the conformity her mother Adele wishes to impose upon her and thus forms a parallel to the connection Jude establishes with Reese. But unsurprisingly, the second generation’s non-conformity is more radical. Desiree's boyfriend Early is an ex-con, a bounty hunter, and a drifter, and Desiree does not marry him. But her daughter Jude has found a lover in a transgender man. Jude’s independence from societal norms is arguably more emphatic than that of her mother.


Part I: The Lost Twins (1968) Summary and Analysis


Part III: Heartlines (1968) Summary and Analysis