When Paul arrives in Vicksburg, Luke Sawyer agrees to let Paul prove his skills by building a night table with his tools and wood. Paul gladly settles into the work. On his second day in Vicksburg, he sees a group of white boys teasing a black boy outside of the store. Two older black girls, Caroline and Callie, come to the poor boy's defense. When the white boys persist, Luke Sawyer comes out of the store and tells the boys to leave. Paul watches with admiration as Caroline gives the crying black boy a pie from her basket. When Paul finishes building the table, Luke Sawyer is impressed with Paul's work, and the two haggle over the terms of his employment. Paul calmly stands his ground, and Sawyer agrees to give him half of the money each piece of furniture earns.
A few months into his employment, Mitchell appears, and the two greet each other happily. Mitchell is working in a camp south of town and still scoffs good-naturedly when Paul tells him of the beautiful land south of Vicksburg that he plans to buy. Meanwhile, Sawyer has received a letter from Hattie Crenshaw detailing Paul's expertise with horses. Sawyer immediately puts Paul to work culling and training the six best horses from the herd of a buyer who recently arrived in town. Again, they haggle over the terms of this work, and finally Sawyer agrees that Paul can keep one of the horses in exchange for his work.
Shortly thereafter, the pretty young Caroline, along with her father, Sam Perry, and her brother, Nathan, appear in his woodshop, asking him to make a rocker for their mother. Caroline insists that when he is done, she will paint flowers on the headboard. As the family leaves, Sam invites Paul to join them at church and for Sunday dinner. The next Sunday, Paul takes a horse and rides out to the church, but he arrives late. While waiting in the woods nearby, he overhears a girl accusing Caroline of trying to steal her boyfriend. The girl begins clawing at Caroline, and Caroline responds by knocking her cold with a fist to the jaw. Paul tries to help her revive the girl and teases the unamused Caroline.
Sam Perry escorts Paul to their house for Sunday dinner. Paul is overwhelmed by Perry's huge, boisterous family, the profusion of flowers on the porch, and the rich food spread over the table. Only Caroline's mother, Rachel, receives him coldly, responding to his greeting with a wordless nod. After dinner, Paul helps Caroline gather eggs, and she tells him that her mother had a hard life as a slave and is consequently resentful of Paul's white appearance—her mother's master's wife had taken away her own name and insisted she be addressed by another name, as she wanted to name her own child Rachel. Caroline also tells Paul that her father is well known for his strength—his Christian name is Luke, though his nickname is Sam from Samson, the strong biblical hero —and his ability to heal animals, which Caroline has inherited. She explains that this gift was so great and his owner depended on him so greatly that his master chose only to whip Sam and not lynch him when he tried to run away. At this point, Paul tells Caroline that he was denied his full name, Paul- Edward, as his father did not think it fitting that his half-black son have his name when none of his white sons had it.
The next month, Caroline comes to paint the flowers on the headboard of the rocker. Paul particularly enjoys the morning, working in her company. When the final layer of lacquer dries, Paul delivers the chair himself. The family is overjoyed and quickly sends for Rachel, who is away from the house. Sam insists that Paul stay to enjoy her reaction to his handiwork. When Rachel arrives, she is speechless at the beautiful rocker and the unbridled adoration of her family members. She still looks coldly at Paul, however. When Paul leaves, Caroline rushes up and thanks him, addressing him as Paul-Edward. As he rides home, Paul decides that it is time for him to settle down and start a family of his own.
By the time Paul reaches Vicksburg, he has weathered his coming-of-age trials. He has broken from his family and learned how to fend for himself in the world. He has committed justified infractions against the rigid code of behavior in the south and escaped the consequences by using his wits and his luck. He has proven himself as a laborer and horseman and has begun to save the wages he has earned from his work. Having tested himself against the world, Paul is ready to settle down. In Vicksburg, where explicit worldly challenges seem to recede, Paul's interests turn toward Caroline. However, this interval seems more like a lull than a resolution: Paul has survived several trials, but now he must win Caroline and wage his struggle to become established in the world. Vicksburg is no paradise; it is a way station in Paul's coming-of-age, which will include not just surviving in the face of the white hegemony but also becoming a self- sufficient landowner, like his father.
In life and in the world of fiction, names carry a great deal of power. Giving someone a name determines, to some extent, how the world will see him or her. Knowing someone's name gives one the power to command another, for knowledge of a person's name implies knowledge of that person's self and of his or her context. In the context of Taylor's novel, the power to take away a name symbolizes the crushingly destructive power whites had over blacks' identity. Paul was denied his father's name because he was black, Rachel was denied the name her mother wanted for her, and Sam had his given name (Luke) replaced with Samson, for his physical strength, which erases his spiritual or emotional qualities. Indeed, black slaves, denied their African names and/or their parents' names, took on the last names of their owners in a potent symbol of their complete subjugation at the hands of their white oppressors. By denying them their names, society has confirmed their status as second-class citizens. Black slaves did not even have the power to determine how the world addresses them and their children, nor did they have the power to trace back their lineage and know their forebears and history. Caroline responds to this oppression by naming Paul as he leaves their house, and she calls him Paul-Edward, the full name that he deserves.
The Perrys respond with rapture when Paul delivers the beautiful rocker to them and even more deliriously when Rachel Perry receives her surprise gift. The rocker, which causes Paul to remember his mother's rocking chair, symbolizes the deep love the family feels for their mother and the respect they have for all the sacrifices she has made to raise them and protect them from the cruelties of the. The rocker embodies their desire to give her ease and comfort, and it stands in for their ability to do so—according to the code of the south, a proper lady should not have to do her own housework. Though the struggling black family obviously cannot provide their mother with a life of leisure, they want passionately to give her freedom from the work she has poured into the household, as both mother and servant.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!