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Within twenty months Helga, has twin sons and a daughter. She is pregnant with another child and is constantly tired and sick. Her house becomes cluttered and dirty. Her children are untidy. Reverend Green eats at the houses of members of the congregation who take pity on him. Helga wonders how she can endure. After talking to a woman in town (Sary Jones) who has six children, she resigns herself to hunger, pain, and limited sleep, taking shelter in her religious conviction. She is successful in accepting her spiritual submission, no longer worrying “about herself or anything.”
Helga has her fourth child, but when they present the child to her, she ignores the people at her bedside, closing her eyes. She becomes distant and unresponsive. Prayer vigils are held. A white doctor is brought in. The children are moved to a neighbor’s care. Miss Hartley, a nurse, is hired. In her dream-state, Helga recalls all of the people throughout her life. She realizes that she now despises Reverend Green. As Helga recovers, she begins to despise religion and no longer believes that God exists. She feels that the suffering of Black people is proof that the “white man’s God” does not exist. Her newborn dies within a week. Helga feels relief.
Helga is determined to leave Reverend Green and her life. She despises her husband and the people in town. She feels that one of the greatest failings is that Black society suffers with the belief that they will be rewarded in “the next world” promised by Christianity. She thinks about what it will mean to leave her children, and it is too difficult for her to consider. She rests, thinking that she will grow strong enough to leave eventually. As soon as she is able to walk again and her children return from the neighbor’s care, Helga “began to have her fifth child.”
Helga’s search for belonging is explored through tragedy as the novel ends. In her illness after the birth of her fourth child, Helga once again recognizes her inability to find belonging in her life in Alabama. This time, her dissatisfaction is reflective as she thinks of all the people who have been important to her in the past, all of whom belong to a world vastly different from the one in which she lives. From the perspective of her near-fatal delivery and its aftermath, Helga gains a truer picture of these people and her feelings about them. The buffering effect of her religious conversion has vanished, as have both her passion and her tolerance for the Reverend Pleasant Green, leaving her longing to leave in search of belonging once more. However, she no longer has the resources of money or health to easily do so and is trapped by her ties to her children. This time, Helga’s pain is both external as well as internal, making her fate inescapable. After dreams of departure and weeks of convalescence, Helga is pregnant with a fifth child in the book’s abrupt ending, which is also the end of Helga. There can be no more searching for Helga because there are no more choices for her to make.