Skip over navigation

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest J. Gaines

Book 2: Reconstruction

Book 2: Reconstruction

Book 2: Reconstruction, page 2

page 1 of 2

From Albert Cluveau to The Chariot of Hell

Summary

Albert Cluveau

Miss Jane lives next to the river and fishes everyday. A Cajun man, Albert Cluveau, frequently fishes right near her, and they often talk, even though all Cluveau likes to discuss is how many people he has killed. He and Jane have a fairly friendly relationship such that she often brews coffee for them and gives him some of her fried fish. One day Cluveau tells Jane that the men in town are not happy about Ned. Jane feels worried and later goes to see Ned, although she tells him nothing. About a week later, Cluveau tells her that the same men want him to kill Ned. Jane looks Cluveau straight in the eye and asks if he could do it. Cluveau tells her that he could. Jane faints in response. Later that day, Jane visits Ned and tells both him and his wife about Cluveau's threat. Ned refuses to stop teaching. His wife, Vivian, says that Ned warned her that he might be killed if he came back here.

The Sermon at the River

Two weeks before he is killed, Ned gives a talk by the river. His students, Jane, and his family are there, but no one else. Several white men watch and listen to Ned's talk from a boat on the river. Jane fears momentarily that the white men might shoot him then and there. Ned is wearing his Army uniform and turns his back on them before speaking. Ned tells everyone that they are true Americans and humans who are equal to all other American people of whatever race. He urges them to stand up and be true men—to pursue all of their dreams and not to simply take subservient jobs in order to conform to the social order, as Booker T. Washington suggests. He vigorously promotes the idea of social change that can be made if blacks take action. By the end of the speech, Ned is sweating, and, when Jane looks at him, she sees the look of death in his eyes.

Assassination

A month passes and nothing happens. One day, Ned rides to Bayonne with two of his students to get some lumber for the school. As they are driving back the next morning, Albert Cluveau steps out of the sugar cane fields with a shotgun. Ned's students want to try and fight Cluveau, but Ned makes them stay seated. He then charges Cluveau. Cluveau shoots him once in the knee, since the whites wanted Ned to kneel before dying, and when Ned keeps coming he fires into his chest. Blood is everywhere. The students place Ned on the lumber and drive to his house. Ned later will be buried in the schoolyard, which the black community will finish and support for years until it is destroyed by a flood in 1927.

The People

With news of Ned's murder, the community flocks to his house and all want to see his body and touch the lumber that held him. When Jane arrives, Vivian is holding Ned's body and sobbing. Jane soon takes Vivian's place but is eventually led away. The next day the sheriff in Bayonne questions the two students who saw the shooting, but he dismisses their accounts by asking them if they are calling Albert Cluveau a liar. No justice follows. After Ned's death, Vivian returns to Kansas, on Jane's advice. A new professor eventually arrives after the school is finished, but he teaches nothing about race relations. He stays until the flood destroys the school in 1927.

The Chariot of Hell

After Ned's death, Jane searches for Albert Cluveau, but Cluveau's daughter, Adeline, always says that he is not home. Finally Jane sees him hiding behind the house and knows that he is avoiding her. One day however, fate intervenes, and she meets him at a different part of the river. She tells him that when the Chariot of Hell comes for him, people all over the parish will hear him screaming. Cluveau and everyone around thinks that Jane put some type of voodoo spell on him. When he gets sick a year later, he keeps on hearing the Chariot of Hell. He beats Adeline in response because he claims that her sinfulness, not his own, has brought the Chariot (she is not really sinful). Adeline finally visits Jane and asks Jane to remove the voodoo spell because she keeps getting beaten. Jane insists that she never did any sort of voodoo on Cluveau. Cluveau does not die for almost another ten years. When he finally does however, he screams for three days before dying. In the end, he rises as if to shoot someone before collapsing in his daughter's arms.

More Help

Previous Next

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!

Follow Us