Pittman Essay, Research Paper
Heralded by some as the best African American author writing in America today, Ernest James Gaines is best known and celebrated for his novel The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. As a black writer, Gaines has taken full advantage of African American culture by writing stories about rural Louisiana. In doing so, Gaines has made himself a country-boy writer of folk tales more grown than made. These stories tell of the struggles of blacks to make a living in a land that has not championed the rights of all its people.
The story of Miss Jane Pittman is a supposed interview with a woman who is 110 years old. She has witnessed and been a part of the history of black America since the end of the Civil War. She tells her story to the persistent recorder in her own words and with humor. This editor admits that he restructured the narrative so it would be more accessible to a novel reader but he tried to maintain, as much as possible, her voice. A triumph in American literature, the subject of the novel has been taken to the heart of its readers, and was made into an Emmy Award-winning television movie.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman follows the life of one woman from her emancipation as a slave in the 1860s to her initiation into the Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960s. A work of historical fiction, the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman takes place in rural Louisiana. It opens with an encounter between the ostensible editor of the novel, a high school history teacher, and Miss Jane Pittman, a woman who is about 110 years old. He wants to use her life story to teach his students history as it has affected real people. The editor attests that he has tried to reproduce Jane’s story in her own words, and the rest of the novel is narrated from her point of view.
Book I: The War Years
A Union Army corporal and his company stop at the Louisiana plantation on which Ticey, as Jane is called until she is about eleven years old, is enslaved. (As a slave girl whose parents died when she was very young, Jane is not sure when she was born.) The corporal renames Ticey Jane Brown, after his own daughter, and thereafter Jane refuses to respond to her original slave name.
A year later, at the end of the Civil War, Jane and some of the other former slaves head north. They run into patrollers, white men who tracked escaped slaves during the war and returned them to their masters. The patrollers murder everyone in the party but Jane and a young boy named Ned. Though Jane is perhaps only eight years older than Ned, she takes responsibility for him as if she were his mother. Jane gathers up some food, and charges Ned to carry a flint and iron, two small rocklike tools for starting a fire.
The two of them continue to travel toward what Jane hopes is Ohio, but…
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