The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Book 1: The War Years
From Hunter to Rednecks and Scalawags
Jane and Ned are walking in the darkness and suddenly smell food cooking. They immediately freeze, but from the darkness a voice summons them. It is an old solitary black man who is cooking a rabbit on his fire. He cuts it up and gives them each one piece. The old man is heading south to try and find his father who was sold in Mississippi. When Jane explains that they are going to Ohio to find the Yankee soldier, Mr. Brown, the old man laughs. He tells her that she has barely gone anywhere and that they should just go back to their plantation because it is too far. Jane gets angry and tells him that she never wanted his rabbit anyhow. When he teases her and suggests that he should knock them out and drag them home, Jane wakes Ned and walks away with him in the darkness. Soon they come back quickly because of the cold, and the man jokingly asks them how Ohio was. Jane and Ned fall asleep, and when they wake, the hunter is gone.
An Old Man
Jane has to carry Ned and both of their bundles the next day since they are sloshing through the Louisiana swamps. After a long morning, Jane approaches a gray house by a field and finds an old white man on the front porch. He tells them that they are still in Louisiana, takes her inside, and gives her greens and cornbread. Over his fireplace is a large map of the states. He shows Jane how far Ohio is. Jane still insists on going and is sassy and obstinate. The man then humorously describes Jane's route, including the fact that she refuses to go to Mississippi and concludes that it will take them about thirty years to get there. Jane says that they better get started then, and she leaves with Ned. After this stop, she and Ned walk for about a week, and Jane says that what they encountered was similar to what they encountered before. Finally, they ask a white man with a wagon for a ride. It turns out that he is not exactly going their way, but she goes with him since she is exhausted and because Ned already has fallen asleep in his wagon. The man, whose name is Job, says that their fatigue was evident.
Rednecks and Scalawags
Job is a poor white man, but he takes Jane and Ned home. His wife is very displeased that he brought two "niggers" there and starts listing all the ways in which Job is not a true man: he did not fight in the war; he cannot make her have babies; their house is falling apart. Job lets Jane and Ned sleep in the empty food crib just outside the house and gives them some cornbread. Through the wall, Jane hears the wife hollering late into the night and reflects that many white women went slightly crazy during the war.
In the morning, Job puts Jane and Ned in his wagon and tells them they are going to Mr. Bone's. Some Confederate soldiers approach as they are riding, and Job explains that Jane and Ned belong to him. The soldiers let them go. Eventually, Job drops them at a house by a plantation and leaves. Jane is sent to talk to Mr. Bone, who runs the plantation. Mr. Bone first thinks that Jane is too small to work in the fields, but she convinces him otherwise. He agrees to pay her the reduced rate of six dollars a month, minus fifty cents for Ned's schooling. Jane is shown to her new cabin, small but clean with only two beds in it. She says that she will live there for ten years. After a month of working, Mr. Bone starts paying her ten dollars like the other women because her work is so good.
This section is the final sequence of the "War Years" book of the novel. Jane and Ned continue their adventures by meeting up with three more significant people: a lone black hunter, a white poor farmer, and Job. These stops contain an increasingly comic touch as Jane's obstinacy about reaching Ohio grows increasingly ridiculous. The black hunter simply cannot believe that two children are wandering through the Louisiana swamp in search of Ohio. He is kind and shares his food with them, but Jane acts like the child that she is and argues about not wanting his food whenever he criticizes her plan. The black hunter has his own interesting story to tell, but it never is fully explained. He is heading south to find his father, who was sold in Mississippi. The hunter's stealth and knowledge of the world suggests that he may have been an escaped slave who has lived on his own for a while. The details of his life are unclear, but his interlude with Jane provides insight into the different types of journeys that other black people made after the emancipation.
Jane's encounter with the white farmer grows increasingly comic. She refuses to listen to him and insists that she will not walk through Mississippi to get to Ohio, even though she knows nothing about Mississippi. The old white man comically describes her journey at length and concludes by saying that it will take them thirty years. Jane leaves after this comment. Although the old man, like the black hunter, is a kindly man who wants to help Jane, Jane trusts no one and will not accept anyone's help with regard to her plans to reach Ohio. Her unwillingness to trust people is not entirely surprising since she grew up in a slavery system with no parents and always had to look out for herself. Jane lacks the wisdom and insight that she will grow in her later years.
The narrative then skips for the first time in the book, and Jane tells about a week with a simple sentence, saying that everything that happened to them continued as it had been. When this week is over, Ned and Jane are exhausted from walking. Jane's exhaustion allows her to be guided by Job, the white man who eventually delivers her to Mr. Bone's plantation. By the time she reaches Mr. Bone's, she realizes that heading north is not as amazing as it sounds and decides to stay right there. Jane started this section of the novel at a plantation and is ending it at another plantation. The two plantations are different in that she will be getting paid at Mr. Bone's. Still, the fact that Jane has journeyed all this way just to arrive at another plantation in Louisiana makes us wonder how far she has truly come. It is her spirit though that has grown during her small odyssey. Jane has grown less naïve through her explorations and also a great deal more knowledgeable about the world. Most profoundly, she has come to realize that although she may have to stay in Louisiana, she is still a free person because freedom has to do with her mindset rather than actually reaching Ohio. Jane's odyssey will continue throughout the novel although once again it will be mostly about her emotional rather than physical journey.
The two white men who help Jane on her route—the Old Man and Job—testify to the cracks in the racist system that exist and have always existed in the South. Job, like his biblical namesake, is a man who appears to have suffered. He is poor and his wife is embittered and slightly crazy. Despite the difficulty of his life, however, he is, again like his biblical namesake, a man motivated by goodness toward other people and even his poverty finds space for Jane and Ned at his home, as well as food. When he drives them to Mr. Bone's plantation, he additionally lies to the Confederate soldiers to protect them. This lie could cost Job his life, but he does it anyway because he is a good person. The small sacrifices made by people like Job and also the old white man, who earlier gave Jane and Ned food, demonstrate the undercurrent of humanity that existed between the races even at that time.
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