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Chapter 8 source and root Summary Ada and Ruby are walking into town for pleasure and to pick up a few things. The two women had spent the previous day scything, loading and unloading hay that turned out to be barely usable, so Ada is tired and gloomy. Ruby tries to lift Ada’s spirits by relaying all manner of bird lore about every type of bird they pass.
In town they do their shopping and eat dinner. They then stop by to see the old, wealthy widow, Mrs. McKennet. She has a secret store of ice, salt and sugar and serves Ada and Ruby ice cream. They speak of the war. Mrs. McKennet believes what the newspapers report and her opinion is that the war is glorious and heroic. Ada expresses that she finds the war brutal and morally ignorant on both sides. Mrs. McKennet dismisses Ada’s opinion as naïve. Ruby tries to fill the awkward silence with more talk of birds, but Mrs. McKennet presses for Ruby’s opinion on the war. Ruby says that the war does not interest her but she has heard stories that the people from the north are a greedy, morphine-crazed, befouled culture.
Later, on their way out of town, Ada and Ruby join a crowd that is listening to a prisoner urgently explaining his story of capture. He was a Confederate volunteer who had been shot at Williamsburg, killed many Federals, and then “unvolunteered” when he became homesick and disillusioned with the war.
He was staying at his father’s farm with two other outliers when a group of men came on horseback. His father tried to stop the men but was clubbed, beaten, stabbed, then skewered to the ground and left to die. One of the horsemen was the notorious Teague. He and his Home Guard, among them a young boy, routed out the outliers and killed all but the prisoner because they thought it would look better if they “brought somebody in now and then”.
When the prisoner is finished narrating the bloody tale, Ruby and Ada start walking home. They discuss what they had heard. There is some argument as to whether the world is a place to fear or a place to strive for joy. When they reach the fork of the river, they see a majestic great blue heron. Ada sketches it in her journal. Ruby tells Ada a story that Ruby’s father used to tell. He said that Ruby’s mother claimed that he was not Ruby’s father. Rather, Ruby was conceived as the result of her mother being raped by a great blue heron. Ruby thinks the story is a lie, but wonders.
Ada occupies the rest of their walk home with a detailed account of her own parents’ courtship. While courting, Monroe assumed he and Ada’s mother would be married but she ended up marrying someone else, with whom she was unhappy and childless. When that husband died, she and Monroe reunited. For the two years they were together, until Ada’s mother died in childbirth, they were happy.
Two more examples of 19 th century literature are mentioned in the chapter. George Eliot’s Adam Bede is a story of simple, people with descriptions of nature. The Conduct of Life, by Ralph Waldo Emerson is his views on ethics. These two works match well with this chapter - Ada and Ruby as simple folks and Ruby’s descriptions of the behavior of birds, then discussions of the war with a strong ethical motif.
Notable in Ruby’s bird lore is her opinion of crows, birds with neither fine plumage nor a fine reputation. She respects the crow’s ability to “relish what presents itself” thus overcoming any natural leaning toward meanness.
The chapter also illustrates the diversity of opinion on the war that was historically the case in North Carolina.