The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Book 1: The War Years

The presence of the Patrollers also initiates Gaines's discussion of the various social classes in the white race that will continue in the book. The Patrollers are lower class whites who did not own land or slaves, but who used to work capturing slaves and bringing them back. In the post Slavery period, many of these whites will become a biggest haters of the blacks. The landowning whites will still maintain their land, but the working class whites in the South will now have to compete with free blacks who could take some of their jobs. Partially in response to the changing social times, these lower class whites become especially involved in violent activities and societies against blacks, such as the Ku Klux Klan. Their involvement in these groups is often related to their social class.

The white female landowner whom Jane and Ned meet is very different from the Patrollers, though of the same race. While the Patrollers kill the blacks, the white woman offers to take Jane and Ned back. The slaves around the white woman all seem to like her and frequently are laughing. One of them in particular, even gets upset when Jane talks back to his mistress and chastises her. This group has been living in Texas, though, since the war and in many ways they appear to be completely out of touch. The mistress entertains romantic notions of slavery. While Jane explains that her mother was beaten to death on their plantation, the mistress claims that her slaves were never beaten. The mistress her plantation as some sort of idyllic pastoral, but Jane knows better. She refuses to sign up under another form of condescending patronage that would once again enslave her. As Jane walks away, the white woman is crying. Her tears reflect her realization about the brutality of the slavery she has supported, rather than her grief that Jane is actually leaving. Jane has awakened the mistress to her own complicity in the racist system.

Jane and Ned's encounter with a Yankee from the Freedom Bureau starts Gaines's commentary upon the role of the Northern Federal Government after the war. The investigator maintains somewhat unrealistic romantic ideas about what will happen in the South, which were held by many Northerners at the time. He tells Jane that Louisiana soon will feel as free as Ohio, a completely untrue statement, so she should just stay there. Still while his notions are overly idealistic, he does offer insight to Jane. He is a man with a horse, a motif common to the Southern gentleman, but he treats her in a very different way than most white men that she has met. He pays to get them across the river and finds them a safe room. The children's home that Jane and Ned reach represents safety, but for Jane it also represents another form of enslavement. Jane has just been freed and she wants to be under obligation to no one. She is free to do what she wants and she chooses unsafe freedom rather than safe adherence to the rules. In some ways her decision might be unwise, but it is completely consistent with Jane's spunky character.

Jane's personal voice continues to grow during this section. Several incorrect spellings of words appear in an effort to demonstrate Jane's speech patterns. The Freedom Bureau written as "Beero," a forehead is called a "forrid," the investigator is called the "invessagator," and Louisiana is always called "Luzana." The improperly spelled terms approximate the way that Jane would pronounce them. By placing them within a written text, Gaines is able to replicate the sound of Jane's oral narrative as his editor supposedly would have heard it. The terms additionally help to maintain the richness of Jane's dialect, while further reinforcing the notion that she has never been formally educated.