A Summer Tragedy





A Summer Tragedy

Arna Bontemps story A Summer Tragedy reflects the life and final days of an old couple who were sharecroppers in the south. Although people claimed that slavery had ended in America, those who supported the institution found other ways of enslaving the people and they did this through sharecropping. Black farmers lived with the illusion that they were free, yet they depended on the white people for everything. The white people gave them land and the agricultural inputs they required on condition that they would pay at the end of the year. Many farmers were not able to do this and they ended up incurring many debts. The old couple saw that the only solution to the problem they were experiencing was to drive their old car into the river. Jeff and Jennie did not have much hope for the future. They did not have anything or anyone to live for as they had lost all their children and they had incurred many debts. Both of them were sick in one way or the other although they did try to care for each other.

The main intention of the author was not so much to entertain but to raise awareness and to educate the audience on the social problems of sharecropping and perhaps the challenges that poor old childless couples go through in their lives. He highlighted the effects of poverty by describing the situation that the couple is living in and by noting their lack. Jeff and Jennie cannot afford decent clothes. They wear fancy but torn clothes, which they have preserved for special occasions. They do not have anyone to help them since they lost all their five children in a span of two years. The author notes how sharecropping has led to a situation where the black people live like they were still in slavery. Even though they have some level of freedom, they continue to depend on the white landowners since they do not have their own land. They cannot afford the planting materials and they have to depend on loans. These situations have made the couple more miserable.

One can analyze the short story using Burke’s dramatist pentad. The main agents in the play are Jeff and Jennie Patton, an old couple living in a log house on the plantation. They are the protagonists in the play and they will help to shape the developments in the story. The act involves the couple’s preparation to end their lives and secure the freedom they need from all the problems they are facing in their lives. They take the time to prepare themselves by wearing their best clothes because they want to die in dignity. Jeff wears a bow tie, which both he and his wife struggle to make. He wears his stiff-bottomed shirt and swallow-tailed coat, which has been brushed and pressed, and he puts on a coat and a hat. Jennie changes her old petticoats and she wears her black silk dress and her Sunday shoes.

The action happens during the summer and it takes place at the couple’s home in the Greenbrier plantations and along the way to the river. The couple lives in a log house that is similar to other houses in the area. There is some sense of strong community because all the neighbors know each other. Every person knows his neighbors children and animals. The couple is not worried about the animals outside because they are safe. The couple uses their old model T to drive to the river. They plan to die by driving the car into the river. It is clear that Jeff and Jennie have taken the time to plan what they are going to do. They have thought over their plans they do not seem to have involved anyone else in making decisions.

The couple decides to take such drastic measures as committing suicide because they have nothing left to live for. They have lost everything and they live in misery and poverty. They do not have anyone to help them, despite their sickness and old age. They are in much debt and they realize they will never be able to be free from their landowner. Jeff makes the decision to proceed with the plan because he fears that will develop another stroke that will paralyze him. This will mean depending on Jennie for all his needs. He recognizes that despite that this would be a heavy burden for his wife considering that she is blind and fragile. Jennie seems to have given up any hope for living after her children died. She encourages Jeff to proceed with the plans they have made and not to be afraid. The two have second thoughts during the journey but they are determined to be free from their worldly problems.

The author seeks to persuade the readers through appeal. He depends on the emotional response of the reader, which he hopes he will be able to achieve by describing the couple’s condition. Jeff has already experienced a stroke and this has made him lame. He is not able to do some simple tasks and he even depends on his blind wife to help him with the bow tie. His wife is blind and frail, yet she is the stronger of the two. She has to take care of her husband despite her present condition. She is not in good health. The author paints the picture of the old couple in such a way that the reader pities and sympathizes with them. In the end, one does not condemn the couple for the decisions they make. The author tries to persuade through his arrangement of the story. In the beginning, it is not clear what the couple intends to do and the author provides more details as the story progresses. Moreover, the author does not mention what caused the old man’s condition until later on in the story when he mentions the stroke and the fact that he is lame. Furthermore, he only mentions the death of the five children midway in the story. The readers begin the story and they learn more about the couple before learning of the fate of the children.

The author advocates his resentment of sharecropping by giving details concerning its effects on the black farmer. Most of the problems that the couple was facing were brought about by the fact that they continued to live in a system of slavery. The author uses the couple’s life story to present his argument. Jeff and Jennie lived on a plantation despite the fact that they were no longer free. The Greenbrier plantation had been his home ever since he was a young man. Jeff had worked long hours to grow the crops in the field. He had grown the crops maturing in the field and he only had one mule. Despite all his hard work, old man Stevenson owned the land and the mules. The old man did not care whether the mules died from being overworked. In addition, he did not care that the share farmers had to toil for most of the day in the fields. Most of them ended up dead because of the work they had to do.

Stevenson did not spare any thoughts for any man who seemed weak. In addition to mistreating the farmers working on his land, he had developed a system that enabled him to take most of what they produced as well. Jeff tells his wife that it does not matter how many bags of cotton they produce since they are always going to be indebted to Stevenson. He acknowledged that it had taken them a long time for them to realize old man Stevenson’s ways. The author advocates against this system because of the effects it had on the people. Despite all their hard work and effort on the farm, the Pattons had nothing to show for it. They lived in miserable conditions that reflected their poverty. Their best clothes were torn and moths had feasted on them. Jennie is in such a miserable state that her clothes do not fit her. Her petticoat hang over her body and her stockings no longer fit and they fall down her thin legs. The author describes her as having a wasted and dead-life appearance and her body is scrawny and gnarled as a string bean.

The Pattons are described as poor and old and it is clear from the squalid conditions that they live in that they are indeed poor. However, they also want to belong to a different class and they do not just want to be associated with poverty. The couple has a car, which was a symbol of wealth rather than necessity during those times. They also have reserved clothes for special occasions. They do not just want to appear as ordinary and poor citizens during this time. They want to be identified with a different class. Jennie is especially concerned about this when they pass by Delia Moore’s house. She got the satisfaction of knowing that Delia had seen her wearing her best outfit and that she did not have any knowledge of the couple’s plans.

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