Summary and Analysis
Chapter 10 - David Willson
The last chapter concerning the Willson family might well be called "David's Story." It is a sad story of a southern liberal who fought unsuccessfully against his heritage. David is caught in the same system which is attempting to destroy Tucker. Yet it is not David (who is agonized) but, instead, Tucker (who seems content) who takes the action which frees, to a degree, both of the men. Tucker frees himself by breaking the chains of bondage and committing himself to take whatever steps necessary to reclaim his lost manhood. In doing so, he frees David from the white paternalistic attitude that makes him feel that he should be instrumental in helping black people gain their freedom and self-respect. Tucker destroys that idea by demonstrating that he needs no one but himself to claim his liberation.
In this chapter, the reader finds a series of excerpts from David's diary, dating from his sophomore year at school and continuing through the day Tucker left his farm. The diary is sort of an internal history of the renewal of courage and the feeling of relief which Tucker's unusual actions brought to David.
The opening section is dated May 31, 1957, the day after Tucker destroyed his land. David writes that the day was one of triumph for him, and that Tucker's act has given him — or released in him — reserves of courage and faith. David's feeling of relief comes from the lifting of a burden of guilt for not having done enough to free Tucker and all the novel’s black people from an oppressive system. Since Tucker has committed himself and broken his white chains, David no longer feels so guilty for having betrayed his liberal dreams.
The diary entries then flash back to September 1931, the year David entered Harvard. As he writes, he expresses the hope that college will give him the tools to help reform the South. Later, at a socialist meeting, David meets Bennett Bradshaw, and they strike up a friendship. David is awed by the fact that a black man can be so casually friendly, so intelligent, and sound so British. Here again, Kelley is pointing out his belief that even white liberals often do not expect blacks to exhibit qualities that whites pride themselves on.
David and Bradshaw spend hours that evening talking about social issues and what each of them wants to do with his future. The two young men are a strong contrast: one is rich, white, and privileged; the other one is poor, black, and nearly without rights as a citizen. As the friendship progresses, David continues to be awed by the range of Bradshaw's knowledge, and he often comments that he is learning a great deal from him, even about the South. In a kind of reverse symbolism, Bradshaw (a black) is for David (a white) a light by which David can better see the South and white-black society.
Bradshaw comments that the present black leadership has merely served the interests of the white power-structure, just as the black overseers did during the slavery era. The leaders, he explains, are self-seeking and primarily concerned with securing their own economic and social positions. Bradshaw's condemnation stems from his extreme idealism; he is sure that he and David will remain dedicated to the cause of black liberation. His statement is particularly ironic when one considers that, eventually, as the leader of the Black Jesuits, Bradshaw will be the same type of leader which here he professes to despise. Bradshaw never really grows, nor, really, does David. Although the young white man is intellectually groping towards a liberal viewpoint, his emotions and loyalties are southern and conservative. He dates and prefers southern women who are the least likely to accept or even consider a liberal thought. He is never really able to overcome his southern white racist background.
The diary entries continue to reveal David's views about blacks. At one point, David's father tells him, "You don't make friends with folks because it's right; you make friends because you like them and can't help liking them." Here, one sees David’s father as an honest, straightforward human being. If he hates you, there is no doubt about it; he makes friends based on true feelings — not on liberalism or idealism.
Later, when David asks Camille if she is willing to move North, she does not hesitate to say that she will. But David is unable to summon the courage to make the move. He fears that he and Camille will be stranded in New York, and so he passes off her willingness to go as simple naiveté rather than real courage or faith in him. Another time, he writes that Camille is urging him to go because she feels that he will be desperately unhappy if he returns to his family to work on their land. David insists that she is trying to put up a brave front for his sake. David, however, is hiding from himself — behind Camille; he does not have the courage to forsake the South and the comforts that it allows him.
The last entry for 1938 notes simply that David collected rents. There is tragedy in this plain statement. In earlier entries, during his school years, David constantly noted that he wanted to do more than collect rents and perpetuate the southern system of injustice. Now we know that not only has he given up his ideals, but that he has given up on himself.
The next entry is in 1954 and concerns Bradshaw's newly created black radical religion. David's comment is that both he and Bradshaw are lost. Again, the idea of loss is referred to. Rather than having lost some part of themselves, the two men themselves are lost. Now David's despair is total: He feels that he and Bradshaw have betrayed their youthful dreams so thoroughly that they can never redeem themselves.
One of the most important diary entries records Tucker's bargaining for seven acres of land. At the beginning, the conversation is on the servant-master level, then it becomes a man-to-man situation. David feels some reluctance about selling Tucker the land which Dewitt Willson originally staked out. Then Tucker answers him sharply and refuses to be browbeaten; as a result, David starts talking like one of the southern white supremists. Tucker is not abashed and states that the situation cannot be dealt with racially. And from this point on in the conversation, Tucker keeps David on the defensive, with the knowledge that, at last, he is claiming his heritage.
When David wants to quibble about the price, Tucker comments that any amount of money, no matter how small, would be more than enough. Tucker has stated his position, and David recognizes that he must deal with a man. Tucker's simple statement, and his final admission, that he wants only the land farmed by the original Calibans is the closest he gets to an outright condemnation of the southern system which forced blacks to work the land of whites without compensation. Yet he does make it very clear to David that the Calibans have as much, if not more, right to the land as the Willsons. David's reluctance to sell what he calls Willson land is cruelly unjust and represents Kelley’s view of the entire southern racial structure.
David's final agreeing to sell the land is a sort of release for him. He feels that he is accomplishing some of what he always wanted to do, what he dreamed of doing when he was younger. This release is not very significant, however, because David feels pressured by Tucker. The selling of the land was not of his own free will. Therefore when Tucker destroys the land, he leaves David feeling only partially freed. The reason is obvious: As Tucker pointed out earlier, all men must free themselves; no one else can do it for them.
As they are driving to the farm, David realizes that this is the closest he has been to a black person since the day he and Bradshaw left school and drove to New York. David realizes that he was the one who had no courage; he could not believe in the faith that Bradshaw and Camille had in him. In asking Tucker if Bethrah's disapproval, or anything else, will stop him from buying the farm, David is trying to establish that Tucker may be susceptible to the same failings that he was, but Tucker replies that he cannot stop now because unless something is done, the Calibans will go on working for the Willsons forever. He says that when a person has both opportunity and will, he should go ahead with his plans. A person gets only one chance to change his life, Tucker stresses. Accordingly, David recognizes his shortcomings and that he is no match for this small black man who has the determination to change his life. Kelley is saying that if black men do not take their destiny into their own hands, they will remain the servants of white men forever. Whatever freedom a man wants, he must take for himself. Although Tucker may not succeed, it is necessary that he make an attempt to be a free man. Tucker's act is not an ultimate act — or even the end of the struggle. It is only the first step.