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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Ernest J. Gaines
Summary

Book 3: The Plantation

Summary Book 3: The Plantation

Analysis

Jane continues describing events that she does not personally witness in this section. Furthermore, Jane stacks her narrative in a way to create suspense. She could have initially revealed that Tee Bob did not rape Mary Agnes, but she tells the story with dramatic effect so that the entire scenario is not clear until the end. Jane's reliance upon accounts given by members of the community particularly demonstrates that this section of the novel is a communal, and not individual, history.

Thematically, this section cuts to the heart of the social and racial division on the plantation. As the plantation is a representation of the south as a whole, it also provides a clear commentary on general race relations.

Tee Bob kills himself in this chapter because he cannot stand living in a world where race is more important than genuine human emotion. Twice in his life, Tee Bob has lost acquaintances because of race relations. First his constant companion and brother, Timmy, is sent away simply because he is black. Next, Mary Agnes, the woman that he thinks he loves, is shown as unacceptable. Since there seems to be no place in the world where Tee Bob can live in peace without the issue of race constraining him, he kills himself. As Jules Raynard hypothesizes, Tee Bob likely understood in the moment before his death that the historical legacy of sexual relations between white men and black women made it impossible for he and Mary Agnes ever to truly love outside of race. This realization of being trapped in the history of southern racism effectively leads to his death.

Jules Raynard appears for the first and last time in this section as a man with considerable insight and perspective. It is Raynard who stops Robert Samson and Jimmy Caya from meting out violence against Mary Agnes in revenge for Tee Bob's death. Raynard knows that Mary Agnes did nothing and that she even rejected Tee Bob, so he takes pains to protect her. Robert Samson's desire for "justice" shows him once again as a figure trapped in the older social order. Ironically, it is this order that led to his son's death. Robert Samson's ridiculous desire to injure the beautiful woman with whom his son fell in love testifies to his lack of understanding about his child. Tee Bob never would have wanted Mary Agnes injured since he loved her. But in the unequal system of southern vigilante justice, Mary Agnes might die simply for attracting Tee Bob. Robert Samson's desire for justice for his lost son seems equally ridiculous when we consider the way in which he dismissed Timmy, his black son. Now Robert Samson has no sons to carry on his legacy. His racist beliefs have cut him down. First they led him to expel a child from his home, and next they reinforced the social order that was so oppressive that Tee Bob killed himself.

The character of Jimmy Caya again reinforces the classicism within the white race itself. Jules Raynard consistently criticizes Jimmy as coming from a white trash background and is blatantly rude to him. Jimmy did give Tee Bob advice that led Tee Bob to his suicide, but, as Jimmy cogently expresses, he was not the only one. Jules Raynard, in fact, gave Tee Bob similar advice just a week before the party, although likely less crassly expressed. Jimmy starts crying at Raynard's abuses, and one cannot help but feel sorry for him, despite the horrible nature of his racist ideas. The desire to sympathize with Jimmy Caya recalls a similar emotion for Albert Cluveau. Both men hold racist ideas and seem to be completely unacceptable. Still Gaines does not draw them in an entirely negative light. His willingness to see them with compassion suggests that a certain leniency should be given to all people, both white and black, who find themselves trapped in racist southern ideology. The ability to liberate oneself from the burden of a violent and racist history is difficult and often detrimental, as Tee Bob's death suggests.