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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest J. Gaines

Book 3: The Plantation

Book 3: The Plantation

Book 3: The Plantation

From Huey P. Long through Confession

Summary

Huey P. Long

Jane reflects upon Huey P. Long and remembers him as a good man who tried to help poor Louisianans, both whites and blacks. Although he called blacks "niggers," he also gave them free books to read and helped them in other ways. Jane feels rich whites had Huey Long assassinated because he tried to help the poor.

Miss Lilly

Jane moves into a house near the Big House, now that she works there all the time. Because she has extra room, the new schoolteacher, Miss Lilly, comes and lives with her. Miss Lilly teaches the children but also wants to reform them socially by making them dress up and brush their teeth (she buys them all toothbrushes when they cannot afford it). Miss Lilly also gets into fights with parents about their harsh disciplining of children. Miss Lilly never adapts to the plantation world where the students cannot take school seriously because they have to work. After a year, she leaves. The next schoolteacher, Hardy is a black man who begs everyone for money saying that the government does not pay him enough. He also flirts with the girls in school. One evening, a father and his son beat Hardy for flirting with their daughter/sister. When Hardy complains to the Sheriff, the Sheriff tells him to get out of the town. Hardy leaves and the school has no teacher for a year until Mary Agnes LeFarbre comes.

The LeFarbres

The new teacher, Mary Agnes LeFabre, is a Catholic Creole, who appears to be almost white. Her grandmother was an octoroon who became the lady of a white man, Mr. LeFarbre. Her children took his name even though they were not married, and upon his death, he left them property, including slaves. Mary Agnes longs to make amends for her family's slave holding past, so she has come to work on the plantation. Her family disowns her when she comes to the plantation. Once when her father visits her, he slaps her; the next time, he weeps but still she remains. The Creole culture has strict ideas about the lightness of skin tone, and Mary Agnes's association with dark people brings them shame. Jane tells a story about some local blacks who almost got lynched after they tried to sneak into a Creole party. The Creoles supposedly maintain high standards and act better than everyone else.

A Flower in Winter

Tee Bob now is at university in Baton Rouge and comes home usually once a week to see his family. When he returns because of his uncle's death, he first sees Mary Agnes. Mary Agnes has come to the kitchen to get some firewood from Jane, and Tee Bob sees her face through the door. Tee Bob asks Jane if Mary is white, and Jane tells him that she is not. Tee Bob still is smitten. After first seeing her, Tee Bob starts returning to the plantation several times a week. Soon he starts coming every day. One day he stops in the schoolroom and stands awkwardly around looking at Mary Agnes while the whole class stops and stares up at him. Finally, one evening as Mary is waiting for the bus to go to New Orleans, as she does every weekend, he walks up to her and talks with her.

Confession

Tee Bob starts spending a lot of time at the plantation because of Mary Agnes. They frequently walk and talk together, while Tee Bob sits on his horse and Mary Agnes walks beside him. One night, Miss Jane asks Mary about it. Mary refers to Tee Bob as "Robert" and insists that she has everything under control and that nothing will happen. Finally, Tee Bob's mother, Miss Amma Dean, asks Jane about Mary Agnes. Miss Amma Dean does not want her son fooling around with a black woman as her husband did. Tee Bob, although visiting Mary Agnes, is actually engaged to Judy Major, a local white girl. Eventually, the Samsons throw them an engagement party. Before it starts, Tee Bob tells his friend Jimmy Caya that he is love with Mary Agnes. Jimmy Caya reminds Tee Bob that Mary is black and that love between them is impossible. He suggests that Tee Bob should have sex with Mary Agnes as much as possible, but that Tee Bob cannot love her because she is a "nigger." Tee Bob strikes Jimmy after this comment and then becomes quiet. Jimmy and Tee Bob go back to the Samson house, but Jimmy soon after goes out. As he is leaving, he sees Tee Bob raise a glass to him, and Jimmy thinks Tee Bob is apologizing for hitting him, although Jane knows that he truly was saying good-bye.

Analysis

Jane's discussion of the social environment of the Samson plantation continues in this chapter, after her brief interlude on Huey Long, the one time governor of Louisiana. Jane then runs through a series of schoolteachers who worked on the plantation. None of them fit into the unique rural culture, however. Finally Jane arrives at Mary Agnes LeFarbre who, with Tee Bob Samson, is the major character in this and the next section.

In this section, Tee Bob falls in love with Mary Agnes. Mary Agnes's Creole background provides an important commentary upon skin tone within the black community. Mary Agnes comes to Samson because she wants to amend for her family's slave owning past. Basically, she feels that by being with darker- skinned people, she can correct her family's history. Her family, and the Creole culture, detest dark-skinned blacks such that they try to lynch two intruders to their party. Although the white world considers the Creoles black, the Creoles have their own high racist standards. Mary Agnes appears to be separate from Creole racism since she comes to Samson, but actually her desires are just as racist as theirs. Mary Agnes judges people based upon their skin color just as the whites and the Creoles do. Actually, Mary Agnes's desire for blackness is ironic, since soon a white man will fall in love with her. In light of Mary Agnes's desire to be with darker people, it seems highly unlikely that she would want to be with Tee Bob. The complex racism within Mary Agnes herself helps to suggest the ridiculousness anything based on race.

Tee Bob finds himself pulled to Mary Agnes because of her beauty, despite the commute from Baton Rouge, Jane's discouragement, and Mary Agnes's emotional distance. As long as Tee Bob does not announce his love, his attentions to Mary Agnes cause no difficulties. The horse motif reappears again when Tee Bob courts Mary Agnes from his higher position on a horse. She walks beside him, and they talk, but their conversations do not attract attention because it is obvious that they are not walking side by side. Although Tee Bob appears to be maintaining the social hierarchy, in other ways he does not. He tells Mary to call him "Robert," a name that is too casual and lacks the title with which black people are supposed to refer to whites. The way that he wants to be called suggests that he views Mary as an equal, but on another level he still maintains himself in the higher racial class. Although courting Mary, his engagement with Judy Major is still going forward. To some extent, Tee Bob's exploration of a relationship with Mary Agnes initially still follows in the steps of how society decrees that it must be.

With Tee Bob's confession to Jimmy Caya, however, Tee Bob raises his relationship to another level. He is not supposed to love Mary as a true woman but rather only as an object for lust. Tee Bob, as Jimmy reminds him, is a white man, whereas Mary Agnes is a "nigger," which means that she is not really even human. Tee Bob's violent reaction to Jimmy's statement reinforces the difference of his opinion from Jimmy's as well as from Tee Bob's father, who once slept with black women as Jimmy recommends that Tee Bob does. Tee Bob still belongs to the white landowner class, but his ideas long to step away from their restrictions.

The narrative flow changes in this chapter, especially in that Jane does not see all of the events that she recounts. Her description of Mary Agnes and Tee Bob's relationship takes place through what she has heard from other people. She was not present for the conversation between Jimmy and Tee Bob, for example, nor was she there when Tee Bob went into the schoolhouse. With this section, Jane becomes a narrative editor of her own by pasting together bits and pieces that she heard in order to tell the story of Tee Bob and Mary Agnes.

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