Summary: Chapters 38–42

Chapter 38 (1970)

Kya’s trial begins on February 25, 1970. Her lawyer, Tom Milton, volunteered to represent her for free (pro bono) when he heard about the case. Kya wouldn’t speak to him until he gained her trust by bringing her a book of oil paintings of shells. The courtroom is filled with people, and Kya hears them whispering about the death penalty. Tom Milton explains the roles of everyone in the courtroom to Kya. After jury selection is completed, the jury includes the truant officer Mrs. Culpepper and Teresa White, the Methodist minister’s wife who once called her “dirty.”

Chapter 39 (1969)

In August 1969, Chase sneaks up on Kya at Cypress Cove, calling her “my Marsh Girl.” Chase attacks her and tries to rape her, but Kya struggles free and kicks him in the groin. As Kya escapes in her boat, she sees two fishermen watching. 

Chapter 40 (1970)

The trial begins with the prosecutor, Eric Chastain, calling the fisherman Rodney Horn. Rodney testifies that he and his friend heard Kya “hollerin’” while they were fishing near Cypress Cove. They thought she might be in trouble, and arrived to see Kya pulling up her shorts and running to her boat. She screamed, “Leave me alone, you bastard! You bother me again, I’ll kill ya.” Tom Milton cross-examines the witness and establishes that the fishermen responded because they thought Kya was in trouble. 

Chapter 41 (1969)

After the attack, Kya has a swollen black eye, torn lip, bruises and scraped knees. Kya heads to her cabin in the woods. She thinks people will blame her for what happened with Chase. The next afternoon she returns to her shack. She sees two praying mantises mating on her porch. The female reaches back and eats the male during mating.

Chapter 42 (1970)

Back in her cell, Kya is committing acts of self-harm, scratching her arms and plucking out her hair like gulls do. Kya hears two inmates down the hall talking about the death penalty. She remembers a poem by Amanda Hamilton about an injured gull.

Analysis: Chapters 38–42

As the trial for Chase’s murder begins, the disconnection between Kya's world of the marsh and the world of people is obvious. Kya is incapable of participating in her own defense, and here again it is only under extreme duress and literal imprisonment that Kya can allow herself to engage with human society. She has built her life away from others by design. Kya's stark refusal to ask for help or input from other people is a contributing factor to her disengagement from the court proceedings. The fundamental conflict between society and the natural world is once again laid bare. It is fitting, then, that Kya only begins to communicate with her lawyer after he presents her with a book of artist renderings of shells. He is willing to approach Kya on her own terms, which has been the only way that anyone can connect with her.

Chase's final appearance in the narrative lays bare the dichotomy between nature and society. When he finds Kya and attempts to rape her, it echoes a moment in Chapter 26 when "Chase knew the marsh as a thing to be used." Kya, as a symbol of the marsh, is simply another resource to be exploited by someone bigger, richer, and more powerful. Now that Kya has asserted herself, any pretense of gentleness has fallen away. Chase, as a symbol for the worst of humanity, will take power or die trying. It is important that Kya fights and injures Chase, but she is also aware that this battle is not over, setting the stage for the final sections of the book.