The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Book 3: The Plantation

Summary Book 3: The Plantation

The tone of the plantation becomes clear in Jane's first story about Black Harriet. Black Harriet is a slow witted, but gentle, woman who works quickly and quietly. When she begins working sloppily during a race, however, the white overseer beats her violently. The beating and the race make Black Harriet lose her senses. The cruelty of the white overseer, Tom Joe, returns when he beats Timmy, a few sections latter. Tom Joe is a non-landowning white who establishes his superiority over other people by beating them. Robert Samson, who is a landowning white, does not see anything wrong with the way that Tom Joe does his job. After the fight with Harriet, Tom Joe is not reprimanded for beating a harmless black woman, but the women who fought against Tom Joe are fired. Likewise, after Tom Joe brutally beats Timmy, Robert Samson sends Timmy away and does nothing to Tom Joe.

The relationship between Timmy and Tee Bob is the central point of this section. Tee Bob and Timmy are brothers who spend all their time together. Although everyone knows that they are brothers, their different races segregate them. Timmy is supposed to cower next to his brother, even though Timmy is actually more intimidating than Tee Bob. Robert Samson acts like a classic southern plantation owner. His visitations to Timmy's mother announce his dominion over all portions of the plantation, including the black women worker's bodies. He rides his horse, a symbol of southern gentility, to her door and leaves it outside so that everyone knows what he is doing. For Robert Samson, black women are open sexually to him, but in no other manner. Likewise, the child whom his illicit relations spawned, Timmy, is a meaningless figure who stands outside of any meaningful relationship simply because he is black. Timmy may have originated from his seed, but Timmy cannot use the Samson name—Robert Samson will never treat him like a son. Robert's attitude toward Timmy recalls similar ones by slave masters during slavery. White slavery masters frequently spawned children who simply were sold into slavery like all the other blacks. The strict division of race made the blood connection between father and child unimportant.

The image of the horse comes into play multiple times in this chapter. The horse is a motif common to the entire novel, which started with the arrival of soldiers on horses at Jane's original plantation, continues with Joe's obsession with horses, and still follows in the role that they play for the Samsons. In addition to Robert Samson riding his horse to seduce Timmy's mother, the horse serves to distinguish Tee Bob's and Timmy's social positions. Although Timmy, who is stronger and more athletic than his brother, can ride a horse while Tee Bob rides a pony, Timmy must ride behind Tee Bob. Jane's adventure on the horse serves primarily for humorous effect, but it additionally serves as a metaphor for Jane's ability to courageously hang on despite difficult circumstances. Her historical period has taken Jane on a whirlwind ride just as the horse has, but Jane is able to stay up in both scenarios.

While the character of Timmy is developed in this chapter, the sequences foreshadow more about Tee Bob's and the plantation's ultimate fate. Ernest Gaines's use of two brothers who are divided by race, references Faulkner's similar move in Absalom, Absalom. At the end of this section, Tee Bob cannot understand why Timmy has to be sent away because for Tee Bob, since his connection to his brother is more important than race. Jane tells us in this chapter that Tee Bob will eventually kill himself because of misunderstandings like this. Ironically, although Robert Samson rejects one son in this chapter, his other son Tee Bob, the one he considers who true son, will reject his father through the act of suicide. In the end, Robert Samson will be childless, in part because of his failure to see Timmy as his child. Just like in Faulkner, Robert Samson's inability to connect to his two sons will lead to the downfall of his legacy. The presentation of the two different colored sons, which underlies the events on Samson Plantation, can be read as a metaphor for the country as a whole. Just as Robert Samson has black and white sons who are brothers, the blacks and whites from the south are essentially brethren in their histories.