The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Book 1: The War Years

Summary Book 1: The War Years

Jane's encounter with the white farmer grows increasingly comic. She refuses to listen to him and insists that she will not walk through Mississippi to get to Ohio, even though she knows nothing about Mississippi. The old white man comically describes her journey at length and concludes by saying that it will take them thirty years. Jane leaves after this comment. Although the old man, like the black hunter, is a kindly man who wants to help Jane, Jane trusts no one and will not accept anyone's help with regard to her plans to reach Ohio. Her unwillingness to trust people is not entirely surprising since she grew up in a slavery system with no parents and always had to look out for herself. Jane lacks the wisdom and insight that she will grow in her later years.

The narrative then skips for the first time in the book, and Jane tells about a week with a simple sentence, saying that everything that happened to them continued as it had been. When this week is over, Ned and Jane are exhausted from walking. Jane's exhaustion allows her to be guided by Job, the white man who eventually delivers her to Mr. Bone's plantation. By the time she reaches Mr. Bone's, she realizes that heading north is not as amazing as it sounds and decides to stay right there. Jane started this section of the novel at a plantation and is ending it at another plantation. The two plantations are different in that she will be getting paid at Mr. Bone's. Still, the fact that Jane has journeyed all this way just to arrive at another plantation in Louisiana makes us wonder how far she has truly come. It is her spirit though that has grown during her small odyssey. Jane has grown less naïve through her explorations and also a great deal more knowledgeable about the world. Most profoundly, she has come to realize that although she may have to stay in Louisiana, she is still a free person because freedom has to do with her mindset rather than actually reaching Ohio. Jane's odyssey will continue throughout the novel although once again it will be mostly about her emotional rather than physical journey.

The two white men who help Jane on her route—the Old Man and Job—testify to the cracks in the racist system that exist and have always existed in the South. Job, like his biblical namesake, is a man who appears to have suffered. He is poor and his wife is embittered and slightly crazy. Despite the difficulty of his life, however, he is, again like his biblical namesake, a man motivated by goodness toward other people and even his poverty finds space for Jane and Ned at his home, as well as food. When he drives them to Mr. Bone's plantation, he additionally lies to the Confederate soldiers to protect them. This lie could cost Job his life, but he does it anyway because he is a good person. The small sacrifices made by people like Job and also the old white man, who earlier gave Jane and Ned food, demonstrate the undercurrent of humanity that existed between the races even at that time.