Summary and Analysis Chapters 3-4



Linda compares the slaves' New Year's Day with the New Year's festivities enjoyed by whites. She notes that, for slaves, January 1 was hiring day. Thus, slaves were expected to leave their families behind and leave the plantation with their new masters on January 2. To illustrate the anguish this day brings to her people, Linda describes a scene of a mother standing by helplessly as all seven of her children are sold, and she tells about an owner who offers to sell an old woman who has served the family for 70 years to anyone who will give $20.

In Chapter 4, Linda tells the story of her Uncle Benjamin, her grandmother's youngest son, who runs away after striking his master. He is caught, imprisoned, and sold, but escapes again. After being briefly reunited with his brother, Phillip, he escapes to New York, where he passes as white. His mother finally manages to buy Phil's freedom, but Benjamin is lost to his family forever.


In Chapter 3, Linda illustrates the "peculiar sorrows" of the slave mother. The scenes she describes of children being wrenched from their mothers' arms and sold to new "masters" must have a powerful impact on her, because — when she becomes a mother — she does everything in her power to save her children from a similar fate.

Linda's account of her Uncle Benjamin's escape by "passing" for white raises an important issue in the narrative, because light-skinned blacks often took advantage of "passing" to gain access to jobs and other opportunities they would otherwise be denied. Those who chose this path were, like Benjamin, often forced to sever all ties with friends and families for fear of having the secret exposed, although some were able to pass back and forth over the color line with relative ease.