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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest J. Gaines

Book 3: The Plantation

Book 2: Reconstruction

Book 3: The Plantation

From Samson through Of Men and Rivers

Summary

Samson

After Ned's death, Jane wants to leave the area, but after speaking to some friends she decides to move onto the nearby Samson Plantation instead. With the move, she will be able to stay close to Ned's grave. Initially, Mr. Samson doubts Jane's work ability because of her advanced age, but she talks her way in. Jane works in the plantation fields. She tells one story about the best worker in the field named Harriet Black, a dark slow-witted woman usually referred to as "Black Harriet." One day, a new girl named Katie finally sets up a race between her and Harriet, after many challenges. The workers and the white overseer, Tom Joe, like the race because it makes their day more interesting. As Harriet races her way through the field, her work becomes less and less skilled, with her frequently leaving weeds and chopping cotton. After Tom Joe sees her errors, she ignores him, and then Tom Joe starts beating her. The other women physically protect Harriet, and a large fight breaks out. At the end of it, Harriet has gone somewhat crazy and is taken away to a mental hospital that night. Several of the women from the fight and the new girl Katie are fired, but nothing happens to Tom Joe.

The Travels of Miss Jane Pittman

Miss Jane eventually decides to join the church. After attending for a while, Jane still does not feel the Lord within her but finally one day she feels that she has acquired religion. In her vision, Jane is traveling with a large sack on her shoulders when she meets someone who appears to be God. He suggests that she should cross the nearby river to get rid of her heavy load. The terrain grows more physically challenging as she walks, and a white man appears and offers to take her sack. Jane declines his offer. The man transforms into Ned, then Joe Pittman, and finally Albert Cluveau, all of whom ask for the sack. Jane will not yield, however, and makes it across the river. Upon reaching the other side, she sees the savior. Her heart suddenly feels light and good. She has found religion.

Two Brothers of the South

The owner of the plantation, Robert Samson, has two sons: one white, Tee Bob, and one black, Timmy. Timmy's mother, Verda, lives on the plantation, and Robert Samson used to ride on his horse to see her. Everyone in the plantation knows that Timmy is Robert's son. Although Timmy is black, he has inherited more of Robert's traits than Tee Bob, who is white. Timmy looks just like Robert and has the same sassiness and recklessness, while Tee Bob is more fragile and polite. Timmy is about six years older than Tee Bob, but even as children the two boys spend their time together. Robert and Miss Amma Dean try to impose a racial order on them, so that Timmy always is supposed to ride his horse behind Tee Bob's pony. Jane now works in the Big House, because Tee Bob wanted her there as his old black nanny recently died. Sometimes she rides a pony with them. One day, the boys trick Jane into riding an unbroken horse. The horse takes off, and Jane gallops around the plantation before the horse stops. Miss Amma Dean wants Timmy punished for this trick, but Robert Samson just laughs when he hears of it. Sometime later, Tom Joe severely beats Timmy up because he feels that Timmy has attitude inappropriate for a black man. After Timmy recovers, and Robert Samson sends him away with some money but does nothing to Tom Joe. Samson feels that Timmy needs to know his place as a black man, which is always below a white man, no matter who Timmy's father is. Tee Bob, however, cannot understand why his brother and best friend is sent away because a white man beat him. Jane reports that Tee Bob apparently will never understand the reason because he will kill himself before he finds out.

Of Men and Rivers

Timmy leaves the plantation in 1925 or 1926. In 1927, a huge flood overtakes the area breaking down Ned's schoolhouse and overturning the levee. Jane contemplates the way that white men have tried to conquer nature, unlike the Indians beforehand and suggests that the big flood shows that nature will always win.

Analysis

With the beginning of the third section of the novel, Jane moves back to a plantation, the third and final one of the book. This book differs from the others in that Jane does not move at all through the duration. Her narrative shifts from describing her own personal adventures to detailing the social circumstances of her environment.

The tone of the plantation becomes clear in Jane's first story about Black Harriet. Black Harriet is a slow witted, but gentle, woman who works quickly and quietly. When she begins working sloppily during a race, however, the white overseer beats her violently. The beating and the race make Black Harriet lose her senses. The cruelty of the white overseer, Tom Joe, returns when he beats Timmy, a few sections latter. Tom Joe is a non-landowning white who establishes his superiority over other people by beating them. Robert Samson, who is a landowning white, does not see anything wrong with the way that Tom Joe does his job. After the fight with Harriet, Tom Joe is not reprimanded for beating a harmless black woman, but the women who fought against Tom Joe are fired. Likewise, after Tom Joe brutally beats Timmy, Robert Samson sends Timmy away and does nothing to Tom Joe.

The relationship between Timmy and Tee Bob is the central point of this section. Tee Bob and Timmy are brothers who spend all their time together. Although everyone knows that they are brothers, their different races segregate them. Timmy is supposed to cower next to his brother, even though Timmy is actually more intimidating than Tee Bob. Robert Samson acts like a classic southern plantation owner. His visitations to Timmy's mother announce his dominion over all portions of the plantation, including the black women worker's bodies. He rides his horse, a symbol of southern gentility, to her door and leaves it outside so that everyone knows what he is doing. For Robert Samson, black women are open sexually to him, but in no other manner. Likewise, the child whom his illicit relations spawned, Timmy, is a meaningless figure who stands outside of any meaningful relationship simply because he is black. Timmy may have originated from his seed, but Timmy cannot use the Samson name—Robert Samson will never treat him like a son. Robert's attitude toward Timmy recalls similar ones by slave masters during slavery. White slavery masters frequently spawned children who simply were sold into slavery like all the other blacks. The strict division of race made the blood connection between father and child unimportant.

The image of the horse comes into play multiple times in this chapter. The horse is a motif common to the entire novel, which started with the arrival of soldiers on horses at Jane's original plantation, continues with Joe's obsession with horses, and still follows in the role that they play for the Samsons. In addition to Robert Samson riding his horse to seduce Timmy's mother, the horse serves to distinguish Tee Bob's and Timmy's social positions. Although Timmy, who is stronger and more athletic than his brother, can ride a horse while Tee Bob rides a pony, Timmy must ride behind Tee Bob. Jane's adventure on the horse serves primarily for humorous effect, but it additionally serves as a metaphor for Jane's ability to courageously hang on despite difficult circumstances. Her historical period has taken Jane on a whirlwind ride just as the horse has, but Jane is able to stay up in both scenarios.

While the character of Timmy is developed in this chapter, the sequences foreshadow more about Tee Bob's and the plantation's ultimate fate. Ernest Gaines's use of two brothers who are divided by race, references Faulkner's similar move in Absalom, Absalom. At the end of this section, Tee Bob cannot understand why Timmy has to be sent away because for Tee Bob, since his connection to his brother is more important than race. Jane tells us in this chapter that Tee Bob will eventually kill himself because of misunderstandings like this. Ironically, although Robert Samson rejects one son in this chapter, his other son Tee Bob, the one he considers who true son, will reject his father through the act of suicide. In the end, Robert Samson will be childless, in part because of his failure to see Timmy as his child. Just like in Faulkner, Robert Samson's inability to connect to his two sons will lead to the downfall of his legacy. The presentation of the two different colored sons, which underlies the events on Samson Plantation, can be read as a metaphor for the country as a whole. Just as Robert Samson has black and white sons who are brothers, the blacks and whites from the south are essentially brethren in their histories.

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