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PLOT SUMMARY (Synopsis) (continued)
The second part of the novel opens up the past of Florence, Gabriel and Elizabeth. Florence tries to pray to god and seek his pardon for the sins she had committed in life. Visiting the church after a number of years, she feels the need to unburden her heart in front of the Lord. Thus, she relives the past that had caused more pain than pleasure to her. As a child, she had visited the church with her mother. Her mother was a devout Christian whose faith in god was unflinching. After working in the plantation for a number of years as a slave, she had got married and given birth to many children. However, only two of her children remained with her. Florence was older and had to look after Gabriel after his birth, while her mother was away at work.
Florence had missed out on the pleasures of childhood and education, as she had to attend to Gabriel and help with the housework. Gabriel was pampered and given special treatment. He was dressed in clean clothes and sent to school. However, Gabriel had failed to fulfil his responsibilities as a good son. He was not interested in studies. He missed school and roamed around with vagabonds. He would get into mischief and cause trouble to his mother. His mother would punish him but it made no difference to Gabriel.
Insecurity always haunted them. A young Negro girl called Deborah was raped by a white man and left helpless. Her father was killed because he raised his voice against the atrocity. This incident had created fear in the heart of the Negroes. Florence’s mother had been very protective towards her daughter. Florence began hating all men including her brother who behaved callously. She had sympathized with Deborah’s plight and befriended the latter. However, she felt trapped at home. The opportunity to escape from home came when her master at work proposed to her to be his mistress. She could take it no more and had walked out of her house and the life of her sick mother with a heavy heart. One chapter of her life had thus ended.
In New York, she had met Richard and liked him for his simplicity. When he had proposed to her, she had accepted his hand, unaware that their future held no promises. Richard was a fun loving, carefree person who could give no thought to his responsibility as a husband. He drank and spent the money he had, contributing very little to the household income. Florence had tried her best to correct him but he found it hard to improve. Finally, she had shown him the door and he had left never to return.
Now, Florence led a lonely and dreary life. She was ill and the pain in her bowels was torturing. Her end was near. Today, she had come to the church to seek the mercy of the Lord to relieve her suffering. She also wanted to confront Gabriel and show him the letter Deborah had written long ago exposing his relationship with Esther but she is not sure she will be fit enough to talk to him.
As Gabriel stands before God, he too recollects his past and the sins he had committed. He remembers vividly the time when his mother was sick in bed and relied on him to give her moral strength. However, he had betrayed her faith by indulging in all kinds of vices and succumbing to the pleasures of the flesh. Most of the time he was away and the Sisters of the church or Deborah would attend to his mother. As he made merry, his mother would pray for him at home. One day, after spending the night with a prostitute, he was torn with guilt as he returned home. Nearing home, he had heard his mother’s soulful singing. The song and her voice had moved his heart and he had decided to change his life.