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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest J. Gaines

Important Quotations Explained

Book 4: The Quarters

Key Facts

In closing I wish to thank all the wonderful people who were at Miss Jane's house through those long months of interviewing her, because this is not only Miss Jane's autobiography, it is theirs as well.

The editor makes this statement in the very last paragraph of the Introduction. The quote demonstrates the editor's desire that Miss Jane's autobiography serve as a communal narrative of black experience since slavery. Even though the story primarily focuses upon her life, many others experienced the events that she lived through, such as slavery, fleeing slavery, and Reconstruction. Even the particulars from later portions of Jane's life are communal. For example, not all black people in the South would have known about Ned Douglass's murder, but almost everyone would have known about someone who was similarly lynched. Likewise, not all black people lived on the Samson plantation but many lived on one that was similar. Ernest Gaines carefully studied individual histories of ex-slaves before he created the character of Jane Pittman. In fact, he said that because her story seems so real, he has often received letters from readers who argue against the idea that Jane is fictional. The fact that many people believe that Jane is real testifies to the communal nature of her story.

That's man's way. To prove something. Day in, day out he must prove he is a man. Poor Fool.

Madame Gautier makes this statement in the "Man's Way" section of Book II. Miss Jane Pittman has come to talk to her about Joe, whom Jane feels will soon die on a horse. Madame Gautier's quote reinforces the theme of man's desire to conquer other creatures. Joe Pittman needs to break horses because he has no other outlet to express his masculinity. In a culture that demands subservience by black men, Joe never can be recognized as an equal of whites. It is only as a capable breaker of horses, and Joe is actually the best on his ranch, that the other men respect him for who he is. Joe's desire to define himself through his skill soon swells to a complete yearning for control. Although Joe has grown old and originally planned to retire with Jane and the money they have earned, he insists on working because of his desire to conquer. Although the black stallion will physically kill him, his never ending desire for conquest is what metaphorically does him in. Madame Gautier calls Joe's desire "man's way." In the novel, this desire can also be seen in the way that white men conquered slaves and blacks after slavery. Furthermore, it also reflects man's need to conquer nature, a theme that Gaines also briefly touches upon in the novel.

I might be a Secesh. Then I might be a friend of your race. Or maybe just an old man who is nothing. Or maybe an old man who is very wise. Or an old man who might kill himself tomorrow. Maybe an old man who must go on living, just to give two children a pan of meatless greens and cornbread.

The old man in the section "Old Man" in Book 1, The War Years, makes this statement. He has taken Jane and Ned in and fed them. Jane is particularly obstinate during this sequence and refuses to let anyone help her. The old man shows Jane a map of the United States and plots her route to Ohio. Jane insists that she will not go through Mississippi, so the old man carefully shows her the way all around Mississippi to Ohio and estimates that it will take her thirty years. With his statement, the old man demonstrates that he is just a human being who tries to live his life outside the strictures of race. This man's statement suggests the difficulty of such an existence. The entire country, and especially the south, divides itself upon racial lines and even a small black child will not trust this older man who wants to help her. The man sounds weary from the years of war. His appeal in this quote will be repeated in different ways by other characters throughout the text who will try to avoid the legacy of a racist history and simply life their lives, such as Tee Bob.

We caused one death already this evening. Jimmy was right. We all killed him. We tried to make him follow a set of rules our people gived us long ago.

Jules Raynard says this to Jane Pittman about Tee Bob's death at the very end of Book III. Jules Raynard is trying to suggest that the race regulations of their society and everyone's adherence to these rules resulted in Tee Bob's death. Although he killed himself, he did so because he was not allowed to love a black woman as he did. His best friend told him that he would be ostracized and that he was out of line. The black woman herself told him that their relationship could never work and that he was crazy for wanting to marry her. Tee Bob saw his love for Mary Agnes as completely pure and not wrong. Since he could not understand why his culture thought that his love was wrong, he killed himself. He could find no peace for his heart in the south, so he left for a better place. As Jules Raynard explains, everyone around him, both white and black, contributed to his grief because no one was able to see beyond the existence of race, as he attempted to do.

Anytime a child is born, the old people look in his face and ask him if he's the One.

Miss Jane Pittman says this at the very beginning of Book Four. Her quote sets the theme for the final section of the novel: the search for a savior for the black race. The elders of the plantation select Jimmy Aaron as the "One" that will lead them forward. Even though Jimmy does not know that he is the One, the community constantly monitors him so that he will develop properly. The elders longing for "the One" hearken back to the Bible, most obviously to the idea of a messianic figure like Jesus Christ. As Jimmy Aaron grows, he will become a leader that differs from what the elders expect, however. They wish him to become involved in the church, but he instead gets involved in politics. His involvement in the growing Civil Rights movement leads him to mobilize political action in Bayonne and, in turn, leads to his death. Although he has died, the political movement that he organized still continues, led by Jane and another youth. In his martyrdom, again another biblical theme, Jimmy has liberated them from their enslaving fear.

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