Miss Jane Pittman is the protagonist of the novel. She is a spirited woman whose defiant attitude and resilience help her persist throughout her more than one hundred years of life. Jane's mother died as a result of a beating when Jane was very young, leaving Jane to managing. During slavery, she is brave and obstinate. She calls herself "Miss Jane Brown" despite the beating that this act inspires. Once she is free, Jane's obstinacy presses her to try and reach Ohio. She is foolish too and refuses to listen to friendly people who try to help her along the way. It is not until she is completely exhausted, does she finally agree to stay at Mr. Bone's plantation.

Jane works at Mr. Bone's plantation just as she worked in the fields as a child and as she will work in the Samson plantation fields when she is about fifty. She is a physically strong woman who works her whole life and maintains a lively and happy spirit despite hardship. Notwithstanding the pains that she suffers from seeing loved ones die, Jane's life proceeds in relative poverty. For a woman born in slavery, she may feel grateful for what she has, but Jane consistently lives in small cabins with no furniture, open fire pits, and occasionally even dirt floors. Not until the very end of her life does she even have running water to drink. Despite the relative difficulty of such a life, she never complains about her lack of material possessions.

As Jane ages, she becomes a mother figure to the entire community. Jane's first son was Ned, whom Jane fostered in the days after slavery. After Ned's death and Jane's placement on the Samson plantation, she plays an important role to many of the youths. Even the white heir to the plantation, Tee Bob Samson, looks up to her affectionately. Jane has never been able to physically have children of her own because she is sterile. Her lack of biological children makes it more possible for her to have many adoptive children. By the very end of the novel, Jimmy Aaron, the One, specifically comes to see Jane in order see if Jane will partake in his protest. Jimmy knows that Jane is a community leader because everyone respects her. Jimmy's confidence in Jane becomes fully proven when she actually marches the crowd towards Bayonne after Jimmy's death.

Still while Jane may be a community leader, she is not austere and very serious. She has Jimmy read cartoons to her from the newspaper. She grows addicted to listening to baseball games on her radio, a fact that is protested by other elders at the church. She also argues with the elders at the church, much in the way that she once argued with the other slaves when she was a child on the plantation. Jane remains her spunk even though she is over a hundred years old. Her attitude have allowed her to succeed during all her life.