Summary and Analysis
Chapter 11 - The Men on the Porch
The final chapter in this novel is a summation section. As the chapter opens, the last carloads of blacks are leaving the state. Some of the men have remained at Thomason's store that evening and have decided to go and have a look at the black section of town. There they find houses permanently abandoned. In keeping with the southern tradition of respect for property, the men do not enter any of the homes. When they return to the porch, they do not discuss what they have seen. Each man sits silently, trying to figure out what the impact on their lives will be. None of them is able to reach any conclusion since this experience — a town without blacks — is unique.
Stewart arrives with a jug of liquor, and as the men start drinking, they become angry. But their frustration has no object on which to take revenge. They attempt to minimize their apprehension about what their future will be by maintaining that the departure of the blacks will make very little difference. Stewart points out that they no longer have to worry about the threat of integration and that things can return to the old ways and traditions of the South.
Stewart also argues that there will be more land and work available as soon as the situation is straightened out. Loomis points out that there may be too much work and not enough people to do it. Stewart, who will not be swayed from his argument, continues; he says that Thomason, the storekeeper, and Hagaman, the undertaker, will not have any more competition. Loomis makes the point that certain jobs, like sweeping out stores, have been done only by blacks, never by whites. He is disturbed by the thought that the menial labor will now have to be done by whites.
Bobby-Joe, who has been silent during the conversation, suddenly has an idea: The black northern preacher, Bradshaw, must be responsible for the departure of all the blacks. Thomason resists this idea and points out that the preacher did not show up until after Tucker destroyed his farm. Bobby-Joe, however, says that Bradshaw's asking for information was just a trick. He insists that Tucker was not intelligent enough to have influenced all the blacks to leave. He scoffs at the idea that Tucker may have been influenced by the blood of the African, or by events that took place over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Bobby-Joe's attitude is, Kelly insinuates, typical of the attitude of many whites towards blacks. Bobby-Joe insists that the blacks should have stayed in the town where they "belong." It is inconceivable to him that the blacks might have become dissatisfied with their lives; to him, the status quo was right for both white and black.
It is to Thomason's credit that he makes an effort to convince the men that Bobby-Joe is wrong. He points out that neither the preacher nor anyone else had been in the black section helping them travel or making sure that they left. Bobby-Joe counters with the argument that northern blacks don't really care about their southern brothers, that they just enjoy stirring up trouble. Thomason makes the point that if the preacher is responsible, there is little that any of them can do about it since he is beyond their reach. Bobby-Joe, however, is not satisfied. He threatens violence if he ever sees Bradshaw again.
As the conversation starts to wind down, Bradshaw's car approaches the town, and none of the men see it until it has nearly passed them. Bobby-Joe runs screaming into the street trying to stop the car. The chauffeur, fearing that he has hit something, stops the car. Immediately, the car is surrounded by the men. They jerk open the doors and begin to accuse Bradshaw of instigating the departure of the blacks. Dewey Willson attempts to intercede, but they are eager to accuse him of complicity in the plot, calling him a "nigger lover." Dewey attempts to explain that Bradshaw is innocent but quickly realizes that none of the men are listening to him and that the moment of violence has come. As Dewey turns to Bradshaw for support in his argument, he realizes that the preacher is caught up in the vision of his own downfall and his irrelevance to the black men who have freed themselves.
Bradshaw's silence in the face of their accusations is taken as a sign of guilt. When he makes a simple denial of having anything to do with what happened, the men become enraged. They drag him from the car and begin to beat him. Bradshaw makes no resistance and seems almost detached from the blows falling on him. Dewey, however, is nearly hysterical and tries to stop the men. He is pushed aside and beaten. Bradshaw's failure to defend himself further links him with the Christ figure, with whom he identifies. He willingly submits to his fate.
Bobby-Joe decides that since Bradshaw is their "last nigger, ever," he should sing one of the old plantation songs. He laments the fact that black people are getting educated and acting "high-class" and can no longer sing and dance and laugh in the old way. The men are quick to agree; they taunt Bradshaw into singing a "darky song." He merely nods, realizing why the blacks left without needing a leader to direct them or inspire them. The constant humiliation of day-to-day life at the mercy of bigots like this mob was enough to force them to move away.
One of the most significant things in this final chapter occurs when old Mister Harper tells Dewey that he won't be able to help Bradshaw and that, further, the men will be worse after they have lynched him. He says that the men will be unable to face each other for a while. Dewey cannot understand this. Mister Harper explains that he feels sorry for the white self-righteous men because they do not have what the blacks have found — that is, a sense of pride and a future. He consoles Dewey with the thought that Bradshaw will be the last black to be brutalized.
The last scene of the novel focuses on Mister Leland, who is awakened by the sounds of Bradshaw's murder. He hears laughter and singing, and he thinks that it is a party welcoming Tucker back. As he lies in bed, Mister Leland remembers a family reunion he attended when he was a little boy. He remembers waking up in the morning and eating the leftover party food before any of the grownups were awake. This suggests that Mister Leland will awake to find the changes — the New South — that his father has been preparing him for. This South will be without blacks (in the old sense of the word) because the men from the porch have killed the last of the old blacks and all the others have left. The suggestion that Tucker will return can be seen as the return of a new black race and the establishment of a different kind of southern society.
Mister Leland plans what he will do when morning comes. After church, he and his brother Walter will walk over to Tucker's farm. He envisions a happy reunion with Tucker, who will tell him that he found what he was looking for. This, symbolically, will be the beginning of the new society.
Yet Mister Leland's interpretation is a fantasy in sharp contrast with what is really taking place on Tucker's farm. Here, Kelley wants the reader to understand important points about his characters. If the children did go to the farm, they would discover the grisly leftovers of a lynching, not a happy reunion party. In a sense, the fantasy of the child is not much different from that of Bobby-Joe and the men who are attempting to keep the traditions of the Old South, where white men were the masters. It is important to realize that Tucker is not back. Mister Leland and Walter are left to rebuild the South.