Type: Narrative Essays
Sample donated: Jeannette Massey
Last updated: August 15, 2019
The novel iswritten from the perspective of Jane Pittman and gives her the agency to writeher own story and express her own thoughts and feelings through her ownsubjectivity.
She is the voice of the story rather than a secondary characterthat is usually portrayed by a black female that supports the main character ofthe story that is usually a black man that is a leader to his community. At thevery beginning when the author of the novel states that the novel is writtenfrom Jane’s perspective and that it was written in her own words as much as waspossible, it symbolizes the path the story was going to take, where black womenare given the voice to shape their own narrative rather than it be told bysomeone else. When Mary, Miss Jane’s agent asked the teacher: “What’s wrongwith them books you already got?” Then the teacher answered: “Miss Jane is notin them.” It reflects the importance of Miss Jane’s Narrative told from an oldblack woman rather than a black male leader. Jane is a symbol of black femaleempowerment as her experiences reflect a resilient character that doesn’t giveup no matter the obstacles that she is faced with. Jane is placed at the center of the story, hervoice being the dominant narrative.
The story takes a form of storytelling, yetthe story doesn’t continue with only one narrative but begins to blur with thenarratives of other characters in the story and in a sense that reflects thediffusion of female subjectivity into a union of female and male perspectivesthat becomes a tale of the experiences of black people as a whole. “I shouldmention that even though I have used only Miss Jane’s voice throughout thenarrative, there were times when others carried the story for her. When she wastired, or when she just did not feel like talking anymore, or when she hadforgotten certain things, someone else would always pick up the narration….”The novel expresses a collective female experience rather than an individualone. It is a tale of the experiences of all black female characters and in asense the novel is not a story but a collection of stories. It represents thehistory of slavery and the experiences of black people. It is a symbol to theexperiences of black people as a whole rather than an individual tale.
Thus, ina sense the character of Jane Pittman doesn’t reflect a submissive woman butrather a collection of archetypes that push her towards the path of self-actualization.Her character is a multidimensional one that is complicated as it isintricately woven, that defies the traditional gender stereotypes of blackfemale subjects. Her character from a young age reflects a rebellious natureand one that will stand against oppression and slavery. This can be seen at thebeginning of the story when Corporal Brown, a union soldier, called her Jane,giving her a name other than her slave name, Ticey, which instilled in her aneed for freedom. After that, Jane underwent abuse and harsh treatment by hermaster because she refused to be called by her slave name. This act ofdisobedience reflects a resistance to slavery. Jane Pittman’ strength anddetermination is also reflected in her being barren as it is a symbol of herself-empowerment.
Her being barren frees her from the objectification that isplaced upon a woman’s body in her role as a mother and sex object. Jane is showcasedas strong and independent and does not need a man in her life. She didn’t marryJoe Pittman, but instead lived with him as his partner, which reflects her refusalto submit to the restricting roles placed on women as the “wives of men”. Janecharts her own path independent of a man, and in a way we can focus on thestory through the eyes of Jane rather than a “man’s wife.” This is a focus onJane’s character as a tool of freeing herself from oppressive forces. Byfocusing on the tale through her eyes we can come to see the bigger picture ofthe collective experience of black people. This displacement in narrative isvery important as the story takes on a collection of narratives later on withJane stepping down from the center of the story and acting as a bridge to theexperiences of other characters. This bridging is a form of leadership thatreflects the type of leadership black women adopted during and after slavery,and its equal importance to the formal leadership black men adopted.
Big LauraThe reconstructionof female subjects as agents of freedom is also reflected in the body of someof the characters. Big Laura is introduced at the beginning of the story as acharacter that possesses physical traits that are equal to a man’s. “Now whenwe came to the swamps nobody wanted to take the lead. Nobody wanted to be theone blamed for getting everybody else lost. All us just standing there fumblinground, waiting for somebody to take charge. Then somebody in the back said, “Moveout the way” I looked, and that was Big Laura. She was big just like her namesay, and she was tough as any man I ever seen. She could plow, chop wood, cutand load much cane as any man on the place.
She had two children……But evenwith them two children she had the biggest bundle out there balanced on herhead.” She is equal to any man, thus in a sense displaces the dominance of menin the story as she is as strong as any man out there, but she is also a motherthat is shown in her being a mother to two kids that reflect the differentroles one woman can play and that women are not reverted into only one role butcan have various characteristics and traits. Big Laura shows no fear when thewhite patrollers attacked the group and confronts them. This reflectsresistance on her part to slavery and to being subject to the dominance of aman.
It’s a message that she can hold her own and that she is not afraid tochallenge authority. This is seen when one patroller exclaims, “Goddamn, shewas mean. Did you see her? Did you see her? Goddamn, she could fight.
” BigLaura is a strong character, not only in body but also in her resistance to theoppressive forces of slavery. Her body is used as a tool to express her emancipationfrom the restrictive traditional roles of women and her reconstruction as afree woman. Her freedom is represented in her physical strength and herresistance to slavery. Her freedom from oppressive gender stereotypes andslavery. Black HarrietAnother female characterthat is similar to Big Laura in her astounding physical prowess that is uniformto a man’s is called Black Harriet, who was nicknamed “queen of the field.” “Hername was Harriet Black, but she was so black (she was one of them Singaleepeople) and the people called her Black Harriet.
She didn’t have all herfaculties, but still she was queen of the field. She was tall, straight, tough,and blue-black. Could pick more cotton, chop more cotton than anybody outthere, man or women, except for Toby Lewis.
She was queen long before I camehere and she probably would have been queen long after if Katie Nelson hadn’t showedup.” Black Harriet challenged the conventional roles of how a woman is portrayed,her physical strength and determination freeing her from slavery and fromconstructed stereotypes of what it means to be a woman. Black Harriet and BigLaura reflected the idea of gender being a social construct.