Friday, April 04, 2008

The Genius of Ernest J. Gaines

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is one of those movies that whenever it comes on television, I watch it again as though I’ve never seen it before. I know everything that will happen before it happens and yet, when she shuffles her frail, 110 year-old body to that “whites only” water fountain in front of the Louisiana court house in 1960-something, the tears in my eyes are still unable to defy gravity; I cry like I’ve been spanked.

How often have you watched this movie or read the book with the assumption that “Miss Jane” had been a real live human being? Don’t sweat; you’re not the only one. It so happens we’re reading this classic, written and published in 1971 by Ernest J. Gaines, in my Contemporary Literature class, and apparently there are many who still believe that “Miss Jane” was an actual person. Even my well-informed professor was “not certain”, and people in the class gazed at me as though I’d blasphemed when I brought up the fact.

That, I think, is the genius of Ernest J. Gaines. In a 1978 article for Callaloo titled “Miss Jane and I”, Gaines talks about the “creation” of this character
“…The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is absolute fiction. By that I mean I created Miss Jane, and if I did not create all the events she mentions in her narrative, I definitely created all the situations that she is personally involved in”.
His “Jane” is a Bahktinian figure of epic proportions through which many black women slaves who never had a voice speaks to us decades later about the atrocities they faced, about their tenacity, their fears and triumphs. Indeed, for us “Jane” is most certainly real, and it didn’t hurt that Cicely Tyson’s portrayal of her has ingrained an image on our hearts and minds for all time.

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At 7:15 PM , Anonymous Joan said...

Oh! I love that movie! Definitely one of my favorites; I need to add it to my Netflix que. And thanks for yet another suggestion for my next trip to the library! :)

At 8:59 AM , Blogger persistence said...

No problem...glad I could help:)

At 5:55 PM , Blogger BLUE said...

it's the river scene with Ned that always gets me ... every time!


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