From the back cover:
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman has sold over a million copies nationwide since its publication in 1971, making the fictional character of Miss Jane so real many people don’t know she exists only in the imagination of Louisiana-born author Ernest J. Gaines.
Miss Jane is over 100 years old when she is interviewed by an area high school teacher looking to teach his students more about plantation society in the deep South. Her story is not only a vivid picture of the South before the dawn of the civil rights era, but also a story of one woman’s survival against overwhelming odds—a stunning autobiography of a courageous woman who won her battles with grace and dignity.
Born a slave and freed when she was ten, Jane leaves the plantation of her childhood and heads in the direction of Ohio in search of a white abolitionist who once befriended her. Accompanied by Ned, a young orphan, Jane struggles to get out of Louisiana. What happens in the years that follow is a tale of loss and heartache and renewed hope, imprinted on its aged teller’s face like furrows in a russet field.
Now, in the racial upheavals of the ’60s, Miss Jane brings closure to one generation, and inspiration to the next.
When the blurb mentions loss and heartache, it really isn’t kidding! Although there certainly were funny bits, most of the tales involved tragedy, unfair treatment, senseless violence, or a lack of awareness about “how to live in this world.” When the protagonist is over 110 years old, one should probably expect to read about the deaths of all her loved ones, but I hadn’t given the matter much thought ahead of time.
Occasionally, a couple of stories were a little dull (like the one about a competition between women working in the field or how Jane came to get religion) but the majority of them were very good. My favorite was probably the story of Molly, an aging household servant, who felt threatened that the family for whom she’d worked for decades had hired Jane to help her out. She was sure Jane was there to take her place, and ended up leaving for another position, the two women never managing to become friends. The story of the white landowner’s son who fell in love with a mulatto schoolteacher was another standout.
Gaines did a great job making Jane’s tale feel authentic, so I can easily see why so many people thought she was a real person. I listened to this in unabridged format, and with the excellent, storyteller-ish narration by Lynne Thigpen, it sounded authentic as well.
I’ll be reading more by Gaines.