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The Land

Mildred D. Taylor

The Promise

The Bargain

Family and Epilogue

Summary

Paul and Mitchell's lives change with Caroline's arrival: she prepares them sumptuous meals and insists they plow and plant a garden so she can raise vegetables. Caroline brings women to visit from their local church meetings, and Paul begins halfheartedly to court a young woman named Etta. At night, the family sits around the campfire talking and laughing. Caroline presses the two men to tell of their childhood together, and with relish, Paul and Mitchell recount their childhood fights, their bargain to exchange fighting lessons for reading and writing lessons, and Paul's decision to take Mitchell's punishment for riding Ghost Wind. Caroline raises and sells her vegetables in Vicksburg, and soon winter arrives. With Caroline there, Christmas is an elaborate and joyful affair.

Around the beginning of the New Year, Paul learns that J.T. Hollenbeck is planning to sell his land, and Paul swiftly visits Hollenbeck to discuss terms. Hollenbeck is asking a high price, but Paul bargains him down to ten dollars an acre for four hundred acres, hoping that one of the banks in Vicksburg will offer him a loan. On his way back to the forty acres, Paul stops at the place where he slept his first night on the land and prays. He sees Digger Wallace lurking ominously around the spot, and the drunken man speaks to him disparagingly. At home, he can hardly contain his excitement. Mitchell takes him aside and talks to him seriously, telling him that Caroline is expecting a baby and giving Paul permission to sell the forty acres to help finance the 400 acres, as long as he can farm twenty acres of the new land.

The next day, Paul travels to Vicksburg and visits all the banks in town, but each refuses to finance him. Finally, he returns to Hollenbeck, reducing the acreage he wants to buy to 200. He offers the man a down payment, a monthly payment, and plans to make up the difference with crops and money from furniture making within seven months. Hollenbeck raises both the down payment and the monthly payments and tells Paul that if he fails to make a payment, Hollenbeck keeps the money and the land. Paul breathlessly agrees. On the trip back to his forty acres, Paul is beside himself, thinking that he has finally acquired land as fine as his father's. His joyful reverie is interrupted by Nathan, who runs up to him with a dusty and tear-streaked face, telling him that Mitchell has been shot in the back by Digger Wallace as a tree was falling, and Mitchell has fallen under the tree.

Paul rushes home and finds Mitchell in a blood-soaked bed, his breathing labored. Paul stands by his friend, who speaks to him in a strained voice, begging him to marry Caroline and look after her and the baby. Stunned, Paul agrees to his dearest and oldest friend's dying request. He walks outside in a daze, and Tom Bee informs him that Digger also shot Paul's finest horse. Paul strides outside and begins to chop furiously at a tree. Later, Caroline comes to fetch him, and they keep vigil with the suffering Mitchell, who dies at dawn.

Analysis

Just at the moment Paul experiences his moment of greatest hope and accomplishment, he suffers his greatest loss. He has finally established the means to acquire the land he loves and become as great a man as his father, only to lose his dearest friend and his only true brother. This loss entails not only a huge emotional cost, but it threatens Paul's very dream of owning the land: without Mitchell's help and without the horse, Paul's ability to attain his dream diminishes. With this plot development, Taylor underscores that a black man must pay a high price to live on his own terms in a white man's world.

The process through which Paul finances the land illustrates the ways in which the structure of postbellum southern society impeded blacks' social and economic advancement. Hollenbeck asks a higher price from Paul because, the man explains, he is buying fewer than a thousand acres. Black buyers, however, are the ones less likely to afford a thousand acres. Though he does not specifically ask blacks to pay more, his economic discrimination translates into a racial one. The banks turn Paul away because he has no financial history with the banks, something nearly impossible for recently-freed blacks to have, and because the land is "white man's land"—rich, beautiful, and costly. Since no bank will help Paul, Hollenbeck is able to strike a deal that favors Hollenbeck heavily. When Paul agrees to take this risk, banking on his horse and Mitchell's help, a white man who is actually poorer and worse off than Paul manages to jeopardize Paul's desperate machinations with an act of violence born of selfish resentment and hurt pride.

The class status of blacks, which Reconstruction did not relieve, serves as a tool for maintaining a racially divided society. Significantly, the greatest blow to Paul is struck by a man poorer than himself. Digger Wallace, like Paul and Mitchell, has little access to power in his society because of his poverty. However, Digger suffers at the hands of racist ideology, which tells him that he, by the order of nature itself, must be superior to all blacks. When Digger sees blacks better off than he is financially, he experiences a disjunction between what conventional wisdom tells him and the reality of his day-to-day experience. Digger Wallace, ashamed and confused at the wretchedness of his life, lashes out against those whom society tells him are inferior to him. As in Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, the poor whites, who struggle against economic disenfranchisement but are offered the flimsy compensation of racial superiority over other lower-class citizens, often harbor the most virulent and violent forms of racism.

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