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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest J. Gaines

Book 2: Reconstruction

Book 2: Reconstruction

Book 2: Reconstruction

From Another Home to Professor Douglass

Summary

Another Home

Joe eventually finds a ranch on the Louisiana-Texas border that offers him a job. Colonel Dye does not want Joe to leave because Joe's work is so good and even offers Joe a sharecropping plot, but Joe insists on going. The Colonel then recollects that he once paid the Klan 150 dollars to get Joe out of trouble, and Joe needs to repay him before leaving. Joe leaves and is able to borrow the money from the boss on his new ranch. The Colonel is astonished that Joe has found the money, but he demands thirty dollars of interest. Joe takes twenty-five dollars from Jane, that Ned had sent her, and sells all his belongings to make thirty. After he pays the Colonel and gets a receipt, he leaves with Jane and his two daughters.

Molly

Joe, Jane, and his daughters walk for days to the new ranch. Upon arrival, they are given a house and fed heartily. Joe will work each day with the horses and Jane will work in the house. The first time Jane works in the house an older black woman named Molly tries to get her to leave by hitting her, ignoring her, and shoving her. Molly has worked in the house since slavery and nursed the mistress herself, Miss Clare. Molly views all other black women in the house as competitors and has managed to get rid of them in various ways. Miss Clare refuses to fire Jane, though, and as a result Molly quits. Molly finds work with another white woman and frequently returns to drink tea with Miss Clare. Not too long after she leaves, Molly dies, and Jane believes that she did so because of a broken heart.

A Dollar for Two

Jane and Joe stay on the ranch for about ten years. Joe is named Chief Breaker because he is the best at breaking horses, and although the two had saved up several hundred dollars and discussed finding their own place, he still wants to work with horses. Soon Jane starts worrying about Joe getting killed by a horse. She has a recurring dream where one horse throws him against a fence. Joe laughs at her worries. One night in a February however, Jane walks by the corral and sees a black stallion that is the horse from her terrible dream. She tells Joe. He laughs and tells all the other men about it at dinner. The sight of the black stallion gives Jane the chills.

Man's Way

Jane is so worried about the stallion that she consults a Creole voodoo woman, Madame Gautier, in town. Madame Gautier comes from New Orleans and tells Jane that Joe needs to break horses in order to prove himself as a man. Jane cannot give Joe more children and for that reason, amongst many others, Joe feels compelled to always show his manhood. It is "man's way." Upon Jane's request, Madame Gautier gives her some powder to sprinkle by Jane's bed so that Joe will not get on the horse. After seeing Madame Gautier, Jane feels sick all week. The night before Joe is going to break the horse, Jane heads to the corral. Before she knows what she is doing, she has opened the fence and tried to get the horse to run. Joe sees her and runs toward the corral, but the stallion escapes. Joe tosses Jane out of the corral, climbs on his horse, and takes off after him. The next morning the other men bring back the stallion, Joe, and Joe's horse. Joe had managed to lasso the stallion, but the stallion dragged Joe through the swamp so that he died. The ranch holds a wake for Joe. At the rodeo that follows, the crowd mourns him before the start. Another man breaks the black stallion, and Joe's daughter, soon after, decides to marry him. They head to Texas. A few years after Joe dies, Miss Jane meets a fisherman named Felton who takes her down to the Southwestern part of Louisiana. She and Felton live together for three years, but one day he leaves without warning. Although she is alone again, she discovers that Ned is coming.

Professor Douglass

The summer after 1898 Ned arrives with his wife, Vivian, and their three children. He comes in his Army uniform, and Miss Jane can scarcely recognize him. Ned wants to start a school for local black children, since there is not one in the area. Ned tells Jane about the ideas of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, about helping the other colored people, and Jane is amazed. In the following weeks, Ned tries to find people interested in his project, but everyone is scared. Eventually, he buys a house by the road and starts teaching classes out of it. He also buys a piece of land on the riverbank where he will build his school. Still all the blacks are afraid, and the whites start watching him.

Analysis

The majority of this section deals with Joe and particularly with the issue of masculinity that drives him to his death. Joe is a courageous, resourceful man who has a vision of a better life and pursues it. When Colonel Dye tries to trap Joe on the plantation by referencing a debt that Joe owes him, Joe simply leaves to find the money. Colonel Dye laughs upon hearing that Joe is actually looking for the money, since he assumes that no one would give a black man so much. When Joe proves the Colonel wrong, Dye makes a last meager and shifty effort to keep Joe there by requesting interest from the debt. Joe still manages to free himself though by borrowing money from Jane and then selling most of his belongings. While many men would simply have stayed on the plantation after Colonel Dye created such a substantial debt, Joe's refusal to do so demonstrates that he, like Jane, believes in fighting the system that keeps him down.

Joe's trade of breaking horses is closely linked to the issue of masculinity. Madame Gautier clearly connects the two when she explains to Jane that Joe needs to break horses to show that he is a man. Jane's barrenness may even heighten Joe's need to do so because he cannot show that he is a man by making her pregnant. Joe's skill as a horse breaker gains him a large amount of respect. Instead of being considered by his race, Joe is appreciated for his skill that the other men, both white and black, crave. As he ages, however, Joe's desire to break horses relates increasingly to his yearning for control. Joe has aged, but still he wants to demonstrate his worth by breaking the almost unbreakable black stallion. It is Joe's desire to control, what Madame Gautier calls "man's way," that leads to his death because Joe is unwilling to accept that not everything, such as the stunning stallion, can be broken.

Ned Douglass's return at the end of this section shows another man who struggles against the dehumanizing effects of the social order. Ned has become a schoolteacher and furthermore has been in the Army. He wears his Army uniform when he returns to see Jane, which is a dangerous act. The uniform suggests Ned's equality as an American man and also his ability to use violence against others, as he did in the war. In a culture where black men are supposed to act constantly servile, Ned's desire to display his equality and masculinity are threatening. For this reason, as well as his desire to build a school and teach, the whites immediately start watching him.

As a final note, one should recognize the theme of psychological slavery that Gaines develops in this section. The character of Molly most clearly shows someone whose psychology has become so entrenched in slavery that she cannot cope with freedom. Molly wants everything to remain as it was during slavery. When she has to leave the Big House, she dies soon after. Jane and Ned's new community near Bayonne similarly has become psychologically governed by fear so much that they are enslaved. Although they believe in Ned's cause, they will not help him because of their fear. Gaines portrays all of these characters sympathetically, especially Molly. Still, by contrasting their fear-ridden behaviors with the more courageous ones of Jane and Ned, he points out how much more satisfying life can be when one makes all efforts to be free both physically and mentally.

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