With the start of summer comes Ellen's unhappy stay at her mama's mama's house. Beforehand, Ellen tells Roy and Julia that she would rather be sent to reform school or work on a chain gang than live with her crazy, mean- spirited grandmother. But they are powerless to save Ellen and can only promise to see her on visits. These visits never transpire, however, as Julia, for some unexplained reason, is fired from her job as the school's art teacher, and she and Roy move away. Sometimes, Ellen receives a letter from Julia.
In packing for her grandmother's house, Ellen leaves most of her belongings behind and brings with her only the money she has been saving. Of the time she spent at her grandmother's house, Ellen says it is like a record being played at the wrong speed. Her grandmother's car reminds Ellen of the undertaker's car at her mother's funeral, only it is a different color. During the ride to her house, Ellen's grandmother does not even speak to Ellen, except to ask her when school begins again. Ellen laments that if she had known then what her summer with her grandmother would be like, she would have jumped out of the moving car and run off.
Initially, Ellen assumes that her grandmother treats her cruelly because she is disappointed that Ellen is not a beautiful girl. Ellen admits that she is not a exactly a "vision," but she does have "good intentions that count." She also assumes that because her grandmother is wealthy, staying with her will not be completely terrible, so she should make the best of it while she is there. This optimism, however, does not last long. By July, Ellen refers to her grandmother as "the damn witch," and no longer cares about her wealth, as she now understands that it is irrelevant to her happiness.
At her grandmother's insistence, Ellen sleeps in the bedroom that once belonged to her mother and has nightmares of ghosts. Ellen is convinced that her grandmother has meant for her to have these nightmares and wonders why she treats her so cruelly.
At the very start of Ellen's stay, her grandmother wakes her up at sunrise and sends her to work with the field hands picking cotton in the excruciating summer heat. The other field hands, all of whom are black, refer to Ellen's grandmother as the "bosslady," as she is the one who owns the cotton fields on which they work. Mavis, one of the field hands, is especially kind to Ellen, and Mavis teaches her how to work the fields and stay cool. Whenever Ellen falls behind, Mavis will help catch her up. She thinks it is absurd that a white child would be sent to work on the field and tells Ellen with a little laugh that her people were "born to chop" and that is why they are such steadfast workers. Ellen, however, does not think this is at all funny. Mavis also tells Ellen that she had been raised with her mother, who was regarded as smart, sweet, and her mother's pet, for she was the only child not ordered to work the fields. Since her mother's death, her grandmother, the bosslady, has been "touched." Ellen wants to examine encyclopedias to find a diagnosis for her grandmother, though she feels she would not know where to begin.
After a month of working the fields, Ellen thinks to herself how she could "pass for a colored now," and how race no longer makes any difference to her.