The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Book 2: Reconstruction

Summary Book 2: Reconstruction

Analysis

The majority of this section deals with Joe and particularly with the issue of masculinity that drives him to his death. Joe is a courageous, resourceful man who has a vision of a better life and pursues it. When Colonel Dye tries to trap Joe on the plantation by referencing a debt that Joe owes him, Joe simply leaves to find the money. Colonel Dye laughs upon hearing that Joe is actually looking for the money, since he assumes that no one would give a black man so much. When Joe proves the Colonel wrong, Dye makes a last meager and shifty effort to keep Joe there by requesting interest from the debt. Joe still manages to free himself though by borrowing money from Jane and then selling most of his belongings. While many men would simply have stayed on the plantation after Colonel Dye created such a substantial debt, Joe's refusal to do so demonstrates that he, like Jane, believes in fighting the system that keeps him down.

Joe's trade of breaking horses is closely linked to the issue of masculinity. Madame Gautier clearly connects the two when she explains to Jane that Joe needs to break horses to show that he is a man. Jane's barrenness may even heighten Joe's need to do so because he cannot show that he is a man by making her pregnant. Joe's skill as a horse breaker gains him a large amount of respect. Instead of being considered by his race, Joe is appreciated for his skill that the other men, both white and black, crave. As he ages, however, Joe's desire to break horses relates increasingly to his yearning for control. Joe has aged, but still he wants to demonstrate his worth by breaking the almost unbreakable black stallion. It is Joe's desire to control, what Madame Gautier calls "man's way," that leads to his death because Joe is unwilling to accept that not everything, such as the stunning stallion, can be broken.

Ned Douglass's return at the end of this section shows another man who struggles against the dehumanizing effects of the social order. Ned has become a schoolteacher and furthermore has been in the Army. He wears his Army uniform when he returns to see Jane, which is a dangerous act. The uniform suggests Ned's equality as an American man and also his ability to use violence against others, as he did in the war. In a culture where black men are supposed to act constantly servile, Ned's desire to display his equality and masculinity are threatening. For this reason, as well as his desire to build a school and teach, the whites immediately start watching him.

As a final note, one should recognize the theme of psychological slavery that Gaines develops in this section. The character of Molly most clearly shows someone whose psychology has become so entrenched in slavery that she cannot cope with freedom. Molly wants everything to remain as it was during slavery. When she has to leave the Big House, she dies soon after. Jane and Ned's new community near Bayonne similarly has become psychologically governed by fear so much that they are enslaved. Although they believe in Ned's cause, they will not help him because of their fear. Gaines portrays all of these characters sympathetically, especially Molly. Still, by contrasting their fear-ridden behaviors with the more courageous ones of Jane and Ned, he points out how much more satisfying life can be when one makes all efforts to be free both physically and mentally.