Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The novel opens in the small town of Jenkinsville, Arkansas during World War II (WWII). Most of the townspeople, including Patty Bergen, are awaiting the arrival of German prisoners of war (POW) at the local train station. When the POWs arrive, the GIs quickly escort them to a vehicle and drive them away. Patty is disappointed in the lack of action and excitement. Patty walks back to her house and eats lunch with her younger sister, Sharon, and her housekeeper, Ruth.
After lunch, Patty decides to walk down to her parents’ department store to update them on the war news. She encounters her father first, who is talking with a salesman. Her father ignores her so she continues on to her mother. Her mother is talking with one of the clerks. Immediately, Patty’s mother starts to disparage her by insulting her looks and comparing her to her to Sharon. Patty tries to inform both her mother and her father about the arrival of the POW’s, but they both do not seem interested and ignore her. The chapter closes with Patty walking home.
The conflict between Patty and her parents is introduced in this chapter and also the concept of racism within Jenkinsville. Harry and Pearl own and run a department store and it seems to take up much of their time. They do not appear interested in being good parents to the two girls, especially Patty. They have an African American housekeeper, Ruth, who seems like more of a mother to the girls than their own.
Throughout the chapter Ruth has commented on Patty’s “sweetness” (12). This indicates a problem
between Patty and her parents. Ruth sees this problem but still wants Patty to be respectful to her
parents. At this point in the novel, it appears that Ruth is the only one who sees Patty’s true “sweetness”
Before Patty leaves to visit her parents at the store, Ruth wants Patty to change into a dress. The reasoning behind this becomes apparent when Patty’s mother insults her looks and her lack of interest in dressing up.
Patty’s father also ignores her when she tries to tell him about the current war news. Both of her parents seem more interested with themselves and their business than with Patty. Bette Greene is setting this up as one of the conflicts of the novel: Patty vs. her parents.
Another issue introduced in this chapter is racism. Greene presents a few references alluding to the town’s division by race. At the train station, in the beginning of the chapter, Patty mentions a boy named Chester; she stated that he was “the only Negro...standing in arm-touching contact with whites” (5).
When Patty is talking with her mother in the department store, Mrs. Benn complains that Ruth was rude to her at the market; she calls her a “Nigra” (19).
At the end of the chapter, Patty describes an area of her town called “Nigger Bottoms” (21). She notes that she wishes that sometimes she was black so she could enter the other section of Jenkinsville.