The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines


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Miss Jane Pittman. She is one of the most unforgettable heroines in American fiction, a woman whose life has come to symbolize the struggle for freedom, dignity, and justice. Ernest J. Gaines’s now-classic novel—written as an autobiography—spans one hundred years of Miss Jane’s remarkable life, from her childhood as a slave on a Louisiana plantation to the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. It is a story of courage and survival, history, bigotry, and hope—as seen through the eyes of a woman who lived through it all. A historical tour de force, a triumph of fiction, Miss Jane’s eloquent narrative brings to life an important story of race in America—and stands as a landmark work for our time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812415124
Publisher: Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/01/1977
Pages: 259
Sales rank: 1,184,766
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ernest Gaines is a writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2004, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying was an Oprah Book Club pick in 1997.

Read an Excerpt


It was a day something like right now, dry, hot, and dusty dusty. It might 'a' been July, I'm not too sure, but it was July or August. Burning up, I won't ever forget. The Secesh Army, they came by first. The Officers on their horses, the Troops walking, some of them dragging the guns in the dust they was so tired. The Officers rode up in the yard, and my mistress told them to get down and come in. The colonel said he couldn't come in, he was going somewhere in a hurry, but he would be glad to get down and stretch his legs if the good lady of the house would be so gracious to let him. My mistress said she most graciously did, and after the colonel had got down he told the others to get down, too. The colonel was a little man with a gun and a sable. The sable was so long it almost dragged on the ground. Looked like the colonel was a little boy who had got somebody else's sable to play with. My mistress told me stop standing there gaping, go out there in the road and give the Troops some water. I had the water in a barrel under one of the chinaball trees. We knowed the soldiers was coming that way—we had heard the gun fire the day before, and somebody had already passed the house and told us if the soldiers came by be prepared to help in every way we could; so they had put me to hauling water. All morning long I hauled water to that barrel. Now I had to haul the water out the barrel to the Troops out in the road. Buckets after buckets after buckets. I can't remember how many buckets I hauled. The Troops was so tired and ragged they didn't even see me. They took the gourd from me when I handed it to them, and that was all. After they had drunk, they just let it hang there in their hands, and I had to reach and get it so I could serve another one. But they didn't even see little old black me. They couldn't tell if I was white or black, a boy or a girl. They didn't even care what I was. One was just griping. He didn't look too much older than me—face just as dirty as it could be. Just griping: "Just left to me I'll turn them niggers loose, just left to me." When I handed him the water he held the gourd a long time before he drank, then after he had drunk he let the gourd hang in his hand while he just sat there gazing down at the ground.

But these was the same ones, mind you, who had told their people they wouldn't be late for supper. That was before—when the war was just getting started—when they thought fighting a war was nothing but another day's work. "Don't put my food up," they said. "Don't put it up and don't give it away. I'm go'n kill me up a few Yankees and I'm coming right on back home. Who they think they is trying to destruck us way of living? We the nobles, not them. God put us here to live the way we want live, that's in the Bible." (I have asked people to find that in the Bible for me, but no one's found it yet.) "And He put niggers here to see us live that way—that's in the Bible, too. John, chapter so and so. Verse, right now I forget. Now, here them Yankees want come and destruck what the Good Lord done said we can have. Keep my supper warm, Mama, I'll be back before breakfast." These was the same ones griping out in the road right now.

Before all them had a chance to get some water, I looked up and saw another one coming down the road on a horse. He was hitting and kicking that horse fast as his arms and feet could move. Hollering far as you could hear him: "Colonel, Colonel, they coming. Colonel, Colonel, they coming." He went right by us, but the Troops was so tired some of them didn't even raise their head. Some of them even laid down on the ground when he went by. "How far?" the colonel asked him. "I don't know for sure," he said. "Maybe three, four miles back there. All I can see is that dust way up in the air." My mistress handed him two biscuits and a cup of water. He looked at that bread and water like he hadn't seen food or water in a long time and he kept bowing and saying, "Thank you, ma'am; thank you, ma'am; thank you, ma'am." The colonel hit his boots together and kissed my mistress on the hand, then he told the others to get on their horses. He hollered for them in the road to get to their feet, too. Some of them did like he said, but many of them just sat there gazing down at the ground. One of the Officers had to come out in the road and call them to attention. Even then they wasn't in any kind of hurry to get on their feet. They started down the road, and I could hear that same one that had been griping before: "Just left to me I'll turn them niggers loose, just left to me." One of the other Troops told him shut up before he got both of them shot. Him for complaining, and him for being his cousin. He told him shut up or cousin or no cousin he liable to shoot him himself. But till they got out hearing distance all I could hear was that little fellow griping: "Yankees want them, let the Yankees have them—just left to me."

After they had made the bend, I went back in the yard with the bucket and the gourd. My mistress was standing on the gallery watching the dust rising over the field, and just crying. "Sweet, precious blood of the South; sweet, precious blood of the South." Just watching that dust, wringing her hands and crying. Then she saw me standing there looking up at her. "What you standing there for?" she said. "Go fill that barrel."

"What for, Mistress?" I said. "Theygone now."

"Don't you think Yankees drink?" she said. "Go get that water."

"I got to haul water for old Yankees, too?" I said.

"Yes," she said. "You don't want them boiling you in oil and eating you, do you?"

"No, Mistress," I said.

"You better get that water then," she said. "A Yankee like nothing better than cooking a little nigger gal and chewing her up. Where the rest of them no 'count niggers at, I wonder?"

"They went hiding with Master in the swamps," I said, pointing toward the back.

"Stop that pointing," my mistress said. "You can't tell where a Yankee might be. And you watch your tongue when they get here, too. You say anything about your master and the silver, I'll have you skinned."

"Yes, Mistress," I said.

While I was standing there, one of the other slaves bust round the house and said: "Master say come ask that's all?"

"Where your master at?" my mistress asked him.

"Edge of the swamps there," he said. "Peeping round a tree."

"Go back and tell your master that ain't half of them yet," my mistress said.

The slave bust back round the house, running faster than he did coming there. My mistress told me stop standing there and go get that water.

The Yankees didn't show up till late that evening, so that little fellow who had spotted that dust in the air had a keen eye sight or a bad judge of distance. The Yankee Officers rode up in the yard just like the Secesh Officers did; the Yankee troops plopped down side the road just like the other Troops did. I got the bucket and the gourd and went out there to give them water.

"How many Rebs went by here?" one of the Troops asked me.

"I didn't see no Rebs, Master," I said.

"Come now," he said. "Who made all them tracks out there?"

"Just us niggers," I said.

"Wearing shoes?" he said. "Where your shoes?"

"I took mine off," I said. "They hurt my foot."

"Little girl, don't you know you not suppose to lie?" he said.

"I ain't lying, Master," I said.

"What's your name?" he asked me.

"Ticey, Master," I said.

"They ever beat you, Ticey?" he asked.

"No, Master," I said.

The Troop said, "I ain't a master, Ticey. You can be frank with me. They ever beat you?"
I looked back toward the house and I could see my mistress talking with the Officers on the gallery. I knowed she was too far to hear me and the Troop talking. I looked at him again. I waited for him to ask me the same question.

"They do beat you, don't they, Ticey?" he said.

I nodded.

"What they beat you with, Ticey?" he said.

"Cat-o'-nine-tails, Master," I said.

"We'll get them," the Troop said. "Ten'll die for every whipping you ever got."

"Ten houses will burn," another Troop said.

"Ten fields, too," another one said.

"One of y'all sitting there, take that bucket and go haul that water," the first Troop said.
"I better do it, Master," I said. "They whip me if I don't do my work."

"You rest," he said. "Troop Lewis, on your feet."

Troop Lewis got up real slow; he was tired just like all the rest. He was a little fellow and I felt sorry for him because he looked like the kind everybody was always picking on. He took the bucket from me and went in the yard talking to himself. The other Troop had to holler on him to get moving.

"What they whip you for, Ticey?" he asked me.

"I go to sleep when I look after Young Mistress children," I said.

"You nothing but a child yourself," he said. "How old is you right now?"

"I don't know, Master," I said.

"Would you say ten? 'Leven?"

"Yes, Master," I said.

"I ain't a master, Ticey," he said. "I'm just a' old ordinary Yankee soldier come down here to beat them Rebs and set y'all free. You want to be free, don't you, Ticey?"

"Yes, Master," I said.

"And what you go'n do when you free?" he asked me.

"Just sleep, Master," I said.

"Ticey, you not the only one go'n just sleep," he said. "But stop calling me master. I'm Corporal Brown. Can you say corporal?"

"No, Master," I said.

"Try," he said.

I started grinning.

"Come on," he said. "Try."

"I can't say that, Master," I said.

"Can you say Brown?"

"Yes, Master."

"Well, just call me Mr. Brown," he said. "And I'm go'n call you something else 'sides Ticey. Ticey is a slave name, and I don't like slavery. I'm go'n call you Jane," he said. "That's right, I'll call you Jane. That's my girl's name back there in Ohio. You like for me to call you that?"

I stood there grinning like a little fool. I rubbed my foot with my big toe and just stood there grinning. The other Troops was grinning at me, too.

"Yes," he said, "I think you do like that name. Well, from now on your name is Jane. Not Ticey no more. Jane. Jane Brown. Miss Jane Brown. When you get older you can change it to what else you want. But till then your name is Jane Brown."

I just stood there grinning, rubbing my foot with my big toe. It was the prettiest name I had ever heard.

"And if any of them ever hit you again, you catch up with me and let me know," he said. "I'll come back here and I'll burn down this place."

The Yankee Officers got on their horses and came out in the road and told the Troops let's go. They got to their feet and marched on. And soon as my mistress thought they couldn't hear she started calling my name. I just stood there and watched the soldiers go down the road. One of them looked back and waved at me—not Troop Lewis: I reckoned he was still mad at me. I grinned and waved back. After they had made the bend, I stood there and watched the dust high over the field. I was still feeling good because of my new name. Then all of a sudden my mistress was out there and she had grabbed me by the shoulders.

"You little wench, didn't you hear me calling you?" she said. I raised my head high and looked her straight in the face and said: "You called me Ticey. My name ain't no Ticey no more, it's Miss Jane Brown. And Mr. Brown say catch him and tell him if you don't like it."

My mistress face got red, her eyes got wide, and for about half a minute she just stood there gaping at me. Then she gathered up her dress and started running for the house. That night when the master and the rest of them came in from the swamps she told my master I had sassed her in front of the Yankees. My master told two of the other slaves to hold me down. One took my arms, the other one took my legs. My master jecked up my dress and gived my mistress the whip and told her to teach me a lesson. Every time she hit me she asked me what I said my name was. I said Jane Brown. She hit me again: what I said my name was. I said Jane Brown.

My mistress got tired beating me and told my master to beat me some. He told her that was enough, I was already bleeding.

"Sell her," my mistress said.

"Who go'n buy her with them Yankees tramping all over the place?" my master said.

"Take her to the swamps and kill her," my mistress said. "Get her out of my sight."

"Kill her?" my master said. "Brown come back here asking 'bout her, then what? I'll put her in the field and bring another one up here to look after them children."

They put me in the field when I was ten or 'leven. A year after that the Freedom come.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Stunning. I know of no black novel about the South that exudes quite the same refreshing mix of wit and wrath, imagination and indignation, misery and poetry.” —Life

“In this woman, Ernest Gaines has created a legendary figure….Gaines’s novel brings to mind other great works: The Odyssey, for the way his heroine’s travels manage to summarize the American history of her race, and Huckleberry Finn, for the clarity of [Pittman’s] voice, for her rare capacity to sort through the mess of years and things to find the one true story of it all.” —Newsweek

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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a book about the determination of a courageous woman. As a child Jane endured hardships and pain of being black. Her purpose in life was to be free and she went through so much to meet that day. After freedom came, she still had to experience slavery. Throughout it all, Miss Jane did what she had to do to survive. She made it and that's all she wanted. This book will give you motavation and determination to do what you have to in life, just like Jane. This one is another winner by Gaines.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was a reviting story of the life of a young girl at the end of slavery. Freedom come when she was still a young child. This story tells the struggles and triumphs of a young child that becomes a women as she fights for her right for freedom in life. Gaines tells this story in a way that is different from all his other novels but he captures the essence of Miss Jane Pittman's life story. This was a well written easy to read novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this narrative! Brings memories of listening to my grandma and her neighbor Miss DeeDee sharing stories about their experiences in rural Savannah, Georgia.
sean.r on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A brilliantly crafted work of fiction which interweaves historical references and recollections into a compelling life story. The book is about the life of a woman (Miss Jane) who was born into slavery, and survived to the dawn of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The book is a modern masterpiece on the topics of race and social justice in America, an overarching story of black experience from the Civil War to Civil Rights, seen primarily through the experience of one woman, but incorporating and representing the experiences of all others. (The book was also adapted into an outstanding film starring Cicely Tyson in the title role.)
ladybug74 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, though parts of it seemed to run on and on a bit. I guess that was because it was written the way that this person would have talked if she was telling the story. I can remember my own 2 grandmothers going on and on while talking about their past, so it's easy to imagine Jane as a real person telling her story. Though this book is fiction, it was very believable and seemed historically accurate, based on non-fiction books of this type that I have read.
jbmartin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book, for short TAOMJP, was very interesting. Knowing that it was, hence the title, an autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, I knew that i would be following her life. The only thing however is that I did not know when they would start talking about her life. As I learn from the very beginning, they start talking about her life when she was a young slave girl. From there, it went on up until she was an elderly woman, around the time of Martin Luther King. The things that happened to Jane throughout her lifetime were very interesting and kept me wanting to find out more about her life, but I felt as though the story plot dragged on sometimes. It is blatantly obvious that Jane is a hero because of how strong she was, and how she was about to stay so composed during the hard times. She really was a mother to everyone, even when she was a young girl. One of the reasons why I chose to read this book was because I had read another book by Ernest Gaines, and I really enjoyed his writing style- but I was somewhat disappointed with this one because the writing style was very different. I overall enjoyed it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Saw the movie years ago. Book spans from the Civil War to the Sixties. To hear first hand from a person who lived as first a slave to a free person but in the South where things really didn't change. Should be a must read, especially in the climate we are living in now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author presented Jane's story in her own words - no literary embellishments. Very thought provoking and entertaining reading.
Simone24 More than 1 year ago
Really worth the read. The author makes you feel each character.
meem800 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book, it was well written and depicted the time and situation of the people in a very true light.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I think the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is such an inspiring book. I think that this book braks down and makes it interesting for us to learn more about how slavery was during that time.If i was a teacher i would recommend that my class read this book.
SandytheSailor More than 1 year ago
I liked this book very much. The author, Ernest Gaines definitely created a legendary figure. I had seen the made for TV movie and at the time,I was not aware Ms. Pittman was not a real person. I also recently bought the film and also recommend it; very well done. The story expressed survival, courage and hope. The ending in the book is different than the movie. The book kept me interested to the end. It is a great historical novel for history buffs and great for middle school teachers.
e4boys More than 1 year ago
This book is very good. I had watched the movie and wanted to see if the book would compare. It did!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In my opinion i think the Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman is a great book.Because it inspire the black race to keep moving forward.I would recommend this book to all my friend because whent you start reading you just whant to know what others things would happen in Miss Jane life.What i like about the books is that is a Autobiography because it tells true event's that happen.I always like Autobiography because i can know about others people life. I think that Ernest j. Gaines is a great writer.other book that that i would like to read about this author is A Lesson Before Dying.because i thin k this should be a good book for my reading list.Now that i read Miss Jane book i think that the Author like Autobiography as much as i do.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was a historical accounting of the life of a young slave living on the plantation and the events following the end of the Civil War when the slaves were freed. I recommend that parents encourage their children to read this story because the way the story is told in Miss Jane's voice it almost makes you are present. This story tells the struggles and triumphs of a young child that becomes a women as she fights for her right for freedom in life. Gaines captures the essence of Miss Jane Pittman's life story. This was a well written easy to read novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman' was a good book by Ernest J Gaines. I likes how he gave people a descriptive detail of the story. He made the readers feel like they were also listening to Miss Jane as she told the story. The story help you understand the struggles Jane had went though as a child and as she had gotten older. It helps me appreciate the things those before me went through. When they did have freedom that still were not treated equally as the whites. I would recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was a great book that took me threw the 1860's to the 1960's as I read the book I felt like I could've been the one telling the story. I have never been so devoted to reading a book as I have this one. It will help one learn of the struggles of many blacks that lived in 'slavery' and how it was still after they were all declared free. Some were ready for the change and some so used to been enslaved and mistreated that all they knew was to stay and slave for there master's in order to even have a way of living. Many dyed and cryed but managed to make it threw to freedom. With all their hard work and struggling many where able to find a decent way of living even if killed them. This book helped me gain a virtual and clear understanding of why it is so important to read about the roots of your race and how life was for blacks at that time and compare them with the way things are today. Miss Pittman did an excellent job at telling the story of her life at 110 years old.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Inspiring in us all the need for help from ourselves and to look up on our situations and how we can improve them, Jane Pittman embodies something like no other. She is the outward epitome of struggle. The Autobiography of Jane Pittman is a wonderful book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is an extremely fascinating and inspiring novel! It tells a woman's incredible tale of her journey from slavery to freedom. Through an extraordinary true account of times from after the Civil War through the 1960s, you are able to learn about more than just what a history book can teach you! This book truly engages you and each individual story teaches not only about her personal hardships, but also about the time period in general. The book begins with Ticey (a.k.a. Jane), a black girl from Louisiana living on a plantation as a slave. We not only learn about the struggles she had in slavery, but those she encountered with freedom as well. Near the beginning of the book, when she is around eleven or twelve years old, the slaves are freed. Their master calls them up to his house one day and tells them that he has hust recieved a notice saying that they are no longer slaves. Jane was overjoyed! She thinks that by being free she will no longer be treated unequal to others, or like a second-class citizen, she believes that now that she is free everything will be different. She leaves the plantation with a large group, and thinks she has left all her troubles behind, at the plantation, but she still has a lot left to learn! On their way to the north, they encounter the Secesh, but this is only the beginning of their troubles. The Secesh attack and kill everyone in the group except Jane and a young three-year-old boy named Ned. From here, she must care for him, and be like a mother to him. From here on, you can tell just how strong a woman Jane really is. Ned and Jane come across many more unexpected obstacles in their path on their way towards freedom, the north. They stumble upon everything from bitter citizens to angry Secesh, but they never give up, which is what really makes this book an extremely inspiring one. When I began the book, it didn't seem as though it would be very good. I thought it was just another book trying to teach you about history through stories that didn't engage the reader whatsoever, but I was very wrong! I really got into the book, because it wasn't like that at all! Although many of the stories didn't completely relate, and made it a little more confusing for the reader, overall I enjoyed the book immensely! I really liked the stories because they helped relate the past to what was actually happening to the people at the time. I found this to make the book a lot easier to read, becuae although you already knew that many people were slaves in the south, and then freed, you didn't know what things happened in their lives during and after slavery, and how the whole slavery experience truly effected them. I would recommend this book to almost anyone, because I feel it was an incredibly enthralling and educating book at the same time!