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The Land

Mildred D. Taylor

East Texas

Betrayal

The Land

Summary

When Paul is fourteen, his mother dies. After the wake and funeral, when Cassie and her husband are alone with Paul, Cassie asks him to come to Atlanta and live with them. Paul loves his sister and his one-year-old niece, but he feels he is not ready to leave his father's land. He wanders around the land in the rain and tells Mitchell that one day he will own his own land. That summer, Paul's father takes Paul, Robert, and Mitchell to a horse fair in east Texas. Shortly after they arrive, Paul impressively rides one of his father's horses and wins a race. A man called Ray Sutcliffe is especially awed with Paul's skill and asks Paul's father if Paul can ride his gray stallion in a race the next day. Paul's father politely but firmly refuses, explaining that he will not endanger his boy by letting him ride a strange horse for the first time in a race. Later, Paul questions his father's decision, bitterly reminding his father that he is not a slave. His father stands by his decision, reminding Paul that he is still, after all, his son. Paul retorts that his father did not identify him as his son to Sutcliffe. With that, Paul decides that he will ride the gray stallion.

The next morning, Sutcliffe approaches him, explaining that his rider suddenly fell ill and that he needs a rider for a race that day. Paul quickly learns that the man has placed a large wager on the upcoming race and will lose a great deal of money if the horse does not race. Paul bargains carefully with the man, pretending that he is only his father's bondsman and stands to lose his job if he rides. When the man, exasperated, agrees to pay Paul four times a rider's wages if he wins, Paul agrees to race. Robert, however, overhears the conversation and threatens to tell their father, but Paul merely turns away from him coldly. Mitchell questions Paul's decision, wondering at the punishment he is likely to receive from his father, but Paul explains that if he wins, he will take the money and set off on his own.

Before Paul goes to inspect the horse, he and Mitchell find the horse's sick rider and ask him for tips on how to ride him. The man explains that the horse is driven by competition and will only race his hardest if he is behind another horse close to the finish. Paul heads for the gray stallion and takes his time getting to know the horse, talking to him and feeding him apples. During the race, he rides the stallion just as the rider told him to, and the horse pounds across the finish line in first place. Paul and Mitchell wait for Sutcliffe to pay him, but Sutcliffe is caught up in conversations with his peers. Finally, Paul approaches him and asks for his pay, and Sutcliffe dismisses him irately.

The boys see their fathers approaching and run and hide among some cotton bales near the railroad tracks. The two boys begin to plan hopping a train west, and Mitchell suddenly darts off. Paul, agitated, starts to plan an escape to the mountains of the west, when a gray-haired woman recognizes Paul as the skilled jockey of the two dramatic races and offers him a job as a trainer and rider. Paul is astonished, but he quickly refuses her when he sees Mitchell, wild-eyed and approaching. Mitchell breathlessly informs Paul that he has forcibly taken the money Paul earned from Sutcliffe. The boys, realizing how dour the consequences could be for this action, begin to panic. On an impulse, Paul runs back to the woman who offered him a job and tells her he will take the job if Mitchell can work with him. The woman agrees, but questions the boys, suspecting that they are in trouble. When Paul tells her what has happened, she springs into action, commanding the two boys to follow her and her daughters onto the train. Once aboard, she commands the boys to hide under the seats behind her and her daughters' skirts. From this vantage point, Paul, with a breaking heart, hears his father come on board, asking after him. He longs to cry out to him but remains silent. Soon, the train begins to pull away, taking the two stowaways back east.

Analysis

The death of Paul's mother sets off a chain of events that complete the dissolution of Paul's ties to his father and the land. Shortly after her death, they travel away from the land to a completely different part of the country, a place where Paul can launch his own travels and endeavors. His father's problematic relationship with Paul, however, plays the largest role in Paul's desertion of his father's family—Paul's father will not acknowledge him as his son in the public sphere, but he expects Paul to obey him as a son. Paul rebels against this double standard, sensing that to his father he is more slave than son. Whether or not his father feels this way, Paul interprets this public repudiation of kinship as a sign that in the end, he cannot depend on his father. He is, essentially, without real kin other than Cassie. Robert's threat to tell their father that Paul plans to ride against his wishes only confirms Paul's decision to break from his father's authority and reject the household.

Significantly, the division between Paul and his white family comes, once again, over a horse. This event echoes the other moments of family strife in the novel thus far: Mitchell's illicit ride on Ghost Wind's back and the Waverly boys' cruel ride on the Appaloosa. In all three incidents, Paul's love for horses almost surpasses his concern for his fellow men: when Mitchell falls off Ghost Wind, Paul tends the wounded horse, hardly noticing the other boy. And when Paul sees the lathered and bloody Appaloosa, he does not acknowledge Robert, whom he has not seen in a year. In east Texas, Paul uses his talent to build a rapport with horses to his own advantage, and he secures the race and the money he needs to break from his family. Paul's affinity for and skill with horses illustrates his own gentle, trusting, and trustworthy nature. His deep, immediate, emotional bond with these animals, like his love for the land, stand in contrast with the ever-changing, painfully complex, and racially-charged relationships that characterize his social existence.

As when Paul left home for Macon and Robert for Savannah, Paul's geographical location reflects his emotional state of being. In east Texas, Paul is less constrained by the weight of his past and the traditions in which he grew up. Thus, he acts decisively and boldly in the face of his father's stern authority and the high-risk opportunity Sutcliffe offers him. After the fateful race, when the break with his family is final, Paul envisions the wild lands of the west, which are untainted by the shameful, heavy history of slavery. However, this escape does not occur. Instead, the gray-haired woman offers him a job in the southeast, and the train he boards draws him back toward the land of his childhood. Though Paul may be able to break some of his ties to white authority, the geographical motion of the novel suggests he cannot completely escape the legacy of the south.

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