The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Symbols

The black stallion

The black stallion symbolizes a creature that is almost unbreakable. Ernest Gaines says that he modeled the stallion after Moby Dick. He wanted to make it a creature that drives man to destruction in his desire to control it. While Moby Dick ultimately gets away, a man will break the black stallion even though Joe Pittman will die first. The black stallion represents an object that is just beyond the control of man but also one for which men will always strive, even if it will ruin them.

Ned's flint

After the murder of Big Laura, Ned carries her flint around as they journey. Jane uses the flint to light fires during their trek. Ned keeps it with him constantly as a reminder of his mother; he even gets in a fight over it when they stop at the orphanage. The flint suggests the symbolic fire that Ned will attempt to light much later in his life. Although he may not use the flint as he ages, his mother's death, as well as other injustices, inspired the desire to fight back against a system that oppresses him. As he ages, Ned gathers the ability to light metaphorical fires with the tools of language and education.

The river

The river, which comes into play during the novel's second and third book, symbolizes the inability of a social order to control nature. The river floods several times during the 1920s, killing people, destroying houses, and breaking up dams. Jane uses this imagery to symbolize the ineffectual attempts of man to conquer things that are inconquerable. On a metaphorical level, however, the river represents the human spirit. Just as the white men cannot control the river, they also cannot control the emotional spirit in black people that demands their equality. Likewise, the tendency for the river to overflow also could be compared to the tendency for the river of love to overflow Tee Bob's heart. Tee Bob was not supposed to have his love transcend the social constructions of race regulations, but it did anyway. These emotions for love and equality, like the river, are natural currents such that nothing can keep them down forever.