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The Land

Mildred D. Taylor

Betrayal

Family

East Texas

Summary

On their trip to Macon, where Paul will begin his formal schooling and his apprenticeship to Josiah Pinter as a furniture maker, Paul's father warns him not to get involved with any white girls, especially Josiah's daughters. Paul looks at his father resentfully, thinking that his father had had no qualms about getting involved with a black woman. Although Josiah repeats the warning ominously and does not let Paul eat at his table or sleep in his house, he is a capable teacher, and Paul excels at his studies with Josiah. Unfortunately, however, Josiah's middle daughter, Jessie, trails after Paul, trying to engage him in conversation.

At home that Christmas, Robert and Paul are eager to catch up. Robert reiterates the warning against getting involved with Jessie, regaling him with stories of black men who were lynched just for looking at a white woman. He also admits, uncomfortably, that the other children at his school, especially the Waverly boys, make fun of him for being kind to blacks. Back in Macon, Paul explains to Jessie what might happen to him if their friendship continues, and after this, she leaves him alone. Paul must stay in Macon to work during the summer and consequently does not see Robert until the following Christmas, when—to Paul's shock—Robert defends the Waverly brothers.

The next Christmas, Paul is surprised to find that Robert and his family have invited the Waverlys to spend Christmas with them. Eager to see his brother, Paul sets out to find him. He meets Mitchell in the woods, whose face is swollen from, Paul surmises, a beating from Willie Thomas. Mitchell says he is planning to leave the plantation, and the two boys part ways. Before long, Paul finds the two older Waverly brothers and Robert leading the panting, lathered, and bleeding Appaloosa down a road toward the barn. Paul is incensed at their clear abuse of the horse, and before he even greets the boys, he tries to calm the horse's labored breathing. Paul lashes out at their irresponsible behavior, calling them fools, and a fight breaks out. Paul fights the three boys off and escapes with the horse into the woods.

After tending to the horse in the woods, Paul returns to the barn, only to find Mr. Waverly, his sons, Robert, and his father, with a leather strap in his hand. Paul's father first looks over the horse, quickly telling Willie to tend to him, and then turns gravely to Paul, telling him he must never hit a white man again. Paul protests that Robert is not a man, but when his father asserts that he is a man, Paul argues that he, too, is a man. Paul's father points out that he is not, however, a white man, and Paul retorts that this fact is the fault of his mother and father. Undeterred, Paul's father makes Paul strip and whips him soundly in front of the Waverlys and Robert.

Paul runs out into the woods. Later that night his father finds him and tries to explain that if Paul hits a white man in the world outside of their plantation, he will be killed immediately and cruelly. Paul listens but refuses to fully accept his father's explanations. Finally, his father gives him one of his rings and leaves the lantern with him. Paul remains in the woods until dawn. In the morning, he returns home and finds Cassie waiting for him on the stoop. His sister supports their father's decision to whip him, saying simply that it is time for Paul to learn the harshness of the world in which they live. Normally, Paul and Cassie spend part of Christmas at their father's house, but this year they stay at their mother's house. Paul feels that this is his only real family. The next day, George and Hammond come over to tell Paul that they are sorry about what has happened and to inform him that their father had whipped Robert once the Waverlys left—as much for betraying Paul as for treating the horse badly. Paul finds that this news does not move him one way or the other. Later, Robert himself comes over to apologize. Paul merely looks at him as he turns his back and walks away.

Analysis

Much racial hatred in the postbellum south was fuelled by the highly charged concept of white womanhood: southern men were viciously driven by their fantastical fear that white women needed protection against the sexual predations of black men. Robert's story, Paul's father's warning about Josiah Pinter's daughters, and Paul's circumspect behavior toward Jessie all illustrate that white men were angered almost maniacally at the possibility of a black man desiring a white woman. Perhaps they even more deeply feared that a white woman would desire a black man. Many white men would not hesitate to inflict a swift and brutal punishment upon a black man accused—even in the most questionable of manners—of having designs on a white woman. This deep- seated fear of relationships between black men and white women was also at the heart of the reverently honored social and economic practices that kept blacks from inhabiting the same social spheres as whites.

The psychology of this fear is complex: we can read it partially as the collective white male psyche's paranoia that black men, whose personhood slavery long denied, will usurp white male sexual and economic power. Partially, the militant desire to protect white womanhood springs from the fear of miscegenation (the interbreeding between the races). Southern society was structured quite strictly on having just two clearly demarcated races, the dominant race and the dominated race. After several generations of interbreeding, however, an individual's racial heritage could be impossible to know for sure. Of course, this taboo—children born of a white woman and black man—clearly demonstrates a double standard, as Paul is quick to point out to his father. Children born of a black woman and a white man, while "not discussed in polite society," according to Hammond, are neither the subject of scandal nor the impetus for lynchings. Perhaps these interracial couplings were tolerated because they did not pose an immediate and palpable threat to white male power and, in some ways, actually buttressed white male dominance. As the situation of Mister Edward's white wife, who sat by sadly and bitterly as her husband took a black mistress, and the mistress herself demonstrate, the institution of white male power limited the lives and power of black and white women as well.

Tensions about belonging and locality trouble Paul and his family. Paul, his brothers, and his father are all of the same blood, and as such belong together in the same house. However, race fractures the physical space the family shares—Paul and Cassie must eat in the kitchen when company arrives and Paul must go to a different school than the school Robert and his brothers attend. The physical separation of shared space leads to emotional fractures as well: the longer Robert spends away in his white boys' school, the more he becomes a member of an adult white male society that cannot countenance people like Paul. The longer the two boys are apart, the deeper the divide between them grows—first Robert laments being made fun of for his family, next he defends the offensive Waverly boys, and finally, he is their friend, ready to fight physically for them. By the end of the chapter, after Robert has repudiated him, Paul realizes that he has no place in his father's household and eats dinner in his mother's house. The physical separation follows closely on the heels of the emotional severance between the two boys.

Paul's whipping, which occurs as a consequence of Robert's misdeeds, closely mirrors his first punishment in the book, which he receives as a result of his decision to take the blame for Mitchell's misdeeds. Both situations expose the two boys' true alliances: Paul's decision to take the punishment for Mitchell's sake reveal him to be both selfless and true to his black friend. Robert's decision to stand against Paul in the company of his two white friends reveals that Robert's true alliance is to the white male world. In the first instance, Paul takes a punishment to save a (black) friend; in the second, he takes a punishment as a result of his (white) brother. Both instances demonstrate where Paul's loyalties and trust lie.

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