Part 1, Chapters 1–4

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Last Reviewed on February 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1315

Chapter 1

The narrator sees a vision on the stone bridge across the river Goose, which was used to transport slaves toward Natchez. It is the bridge upon which the Conduction begins. He realizes that the woman he sees is his mother, who was once the best dancer at Lockless, even though he does not remember her.

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The narrator’s brother, Maynard, cannot see her. It is autumn and raining; Maynard, in the back of the chaise, is a “rotten apple” whom the narrator has always been forced to take care of. Now, the narrator remembers “legions of the lost.”

Suddenly, the road beneath the wheels of the chaise disappears, the bridge collapsing. Blue light explodes all around, and then the brothers are in the water. Maynard is thrashing; the narrator cannot understand how they have entered the river.

Maynard calls out for help, and the narrator yells that he cannot save him—“We are under the ox!” The blue light rises again now that he feels death imminent, and he sees many memories of people from his past, including his aunt Emma, who baked cookies for the “Walkers.” He realizes that there is “a life beyond the Task,” a homeland that fills him with a sense of freedom, especially as he realizes that Maynard will not be going there. Instead, he drowns, and the narrator sees the apparition of his mother kneeling before a boy and placing a shell necklace in his hand. The boy then approaches the narrator with the necklace, and the narrator finally sees his “reward.”

Chapter 2

The narrator, like all the Tasked, has always wanted to “get out,” but he is unique in having “means” others don't. He can “see” others’ words as images; he has a photographic memory for everything but his own mother.

He saw the blue light once before when he was nine, after his mother had been sold. He envisioned a long trough of water and had a sensation that he had to escape, which drove him to leave in the winter morning, walking down the Street to the woods. He passed the cabin of Boss Harlan, a white “enforcer.” Then the vision returned, and the blue mist showed him the trough again. When the light cleared, he was on the floor of his own cabin once again. He slept.

When he woke, he set off for Thena’s home. Her own children had gone, and she let the boy in and looked after him for a year and a half. One night, he was woken by her calling for someone called “John” in her sleep. When she woke, she angrily told him to leave the house. Later, Thena explained in apology that John had been her husband and that he had been murdered. He was the driver of the slaves and worked them well; after he died, the harvest went badly. All five of Thena’s children were sold. She told the narrator she could not be his mother but would look after him.

The narrator’s father had been the master of Lockless, a member of the Quality rather than the Tasked. One day, he flicked a coin toward the narrator, who felt this was his “ticket out of the fields.” The next day, Desi and Harlan came to talk to Thena, after which Thena took the narrator, Hiram, out into the fields. The white people wanted Hiram to leave the fields; Thena reminds him that they “ain't your family, boy.” But Hiram was excited when Roscoe, his father’s butler, came to take him to the beautiful house where his father, Howell Walker, lived. In the house, he saw a white boy: his brother, Maynard.

Chapter 3

Hiram raised fires for Ella, the cook; labored in the stable with Roscoe; or worked in the orchard with Pete.

When Hiram was twelve, a social event was held. Maynard’s tutor, Mr. Fields, was there, as was Alice Caulley, for whom Pete’s sister, Maddie, worked. Alice was rude to the waiting staff, slapping one. Hiram tried to diffuse the situation by offering her a pack of cards and asking her...

(The entire section contains 1315 words.)

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Part 1, Chapters 5–9