Part III: Heartlines (1968) Summary and Analysis
The story flashes back to the late 60s but remains in Los Angeles. In Palace Estates, a community in upscale Brentwood, Stella Vignes is married to the businessman Blake Sanders. She met Blake when she began working for him as a secretary at the Maison Blanche in New Orleans. Stella, of course, is passing as white. No one, including her husband, has the slightest suspicion that she is Black.
At a meeting of the Homeowners’ Association, the members are busy discussing the “problem” of the imminent move of an African-American family into their all-white neighborhood. Stella has become the ultimate hypocrite, standing up at the meeting and declaring that they must stop this thing from happening and saying, “If you don’t, there’ll be more and then what? Enough is enough!” Blake is surprised at her demonstrativeness, given that Stella is normally a mild-mannered person who doesn’t draw attention to herself. Stella’s fear is that a Black family living across the street from her might recognize her own non-whiteness.
Stella and Blake have a daughter, seven years old at this time, named Kennedy. Kennedy has nightmares, just as Stella herself frequently had nightmares as a little girl. Kennedy questions her mother about where she grew up, and Stella repeats the lies she has told her husband: that she was an only child from rural Louisiana who moved to New Orleans when her parents died. Stella does everything to avoid contact with Black people, and she dreads the possibility that Kennedy might have to share a swimming pool with African-American children. Yet Stella’s own worst memory of childhood is of the time she was molested by Mr. Dupont, the white man for whom she and Desiree worked as house cleaners. This incident was the reason Stella convinced Desiree that they should proceed with their plan to escape from Mallard.
The Homeowners’ Association has been unable to block the move to the Palace Estates by the Black family, who have threatened to sue. When they move in, Stella meets the wife. The woman “smiles and waves,” and Stella hesitates before lifting her hand. When she tells Blake about it, he insists that there is “nothing to worry about,” because the new family will keep to themselves. As they lie in bed together, Stella cannot help reflecting that in some sense Blake reminds her of the man who molested her years earlier, Mr. Dupont.
The surprise about the new neighbors is that the husband is a TV star, an actor named Reginald Walker who plays a policeman on a popular show called Frisk. Reginald and his wife, Loretta, drive a Cadillac and have a daughter about the same age as Kennedy. At first the tension or resistance in the neighborhood about having Black neighbors is defused, at least somewhat. One of the other white women, who is friendly with Stella, describes Loretta as “uppity,” simply because the Walkers want to enroll their daughter at “our” school instead of busing her to a school where there “are plenty of colored children.”
The whites in Brentwood prove to be deeply bigoted, though their bigotry is somewhat hidden at first. Stella, hoping to dispel any potential suspicions about her own background, behaves with as much prejudice as any of them, marching across the street to prevent Kennedy from playing with the Walkers’ daughter. In a repetition of an incident in Mallard in which a white woman prevented her daughter from playing with Desiree and Stella, Stella explains to Kennedy that “we don’t play” with Black people.
Stella avoids Loretta for three weeks. But after hearing that Loretta has written a letter to the school board threatening to sue if her daughter is’t allowed to attend the school, Stella decides on a kind of peace offering, bringing her a cake. Loretta tells Stella she didn’t want to move to Brentwood, but Reg had his heart set on it and wouldn’t change his mind. Stella asks questions in the way a typically ignorant...
(The entire section is 1,345 words.)