family. In the books that Odella reads to Jacqueline, there is always a happy ending. When Jacqueline and her siblings return to Brooklyn from Greenville, their reunion with Roman and Mama is an “almost happy ending,” because Roman still has a hospital band on his wrist, and must return the next day.
In this poem, Woodson shows the reader how the conventions of storytelling frame Jacqueline’s point of view. When Jacqueline compares the “happy endings” of the stories that Odella reads to her with the “almost happy ending” that she experiences reuniting with Mama and Roman, the reader sees how markedly the complexity of Jacqueline’s life contrasts with the typical arc of a children’s story.
one place. Roman travels between the apartment and the hospital until his treatment is done. Mama moves Roman’s crib far from the wall so he can’t reach the paint. At last, the family is together again.
The title of this poem, “one place,” highlights the sense of internal division that Jacqueline feels when she is separated from her mother and brother. Despite her sense of being pulled between the North and the South, Jacqueline seems at peace here at last with her family together.
maria. During the last weeks of summer, Jacqueline makes a new best friend, Maria, who lives two doors down. Every morning they play together. Maria teaches Jacqueline the Spanish word “amiga,” meaning “friend.”
Until now, Jacqueline’s social circle (even in New York) has been mostly limited to English-speaking Southerners, but now she begins to learn Spanish from her new friend Maria. This is another instance when Woodson shows Jacqueline’s language skills expanding, evolving, and becoming richer.
how to listen #5. Maria asks Jacqueline what her deepest wish is.
Wishing recurs throughout the memoir as a concept that jogs Jacqueline’s imagination and her desire to tell stories.
tomboy. Odella reads for fun instead of engaging in more active pursuits, like handball or jump rope. Jacqueline, on the other hand, likes playground games, and so she is called a “tomboy.” Her walk reminds Mama of Jack.
When Mama say that Jacqueline walks like Jack, she suggests an alternative mode of memory that exists in the body rather than in language. Despite Jacqueline’s fading memory of her father, she evokes him every day in her gait.
game over. Mama calls the children inside for the night. The children whine. Outside, their friends, who are allowed to stay out later, complain that Jacqueline and Hope shouldn’t have to go inside so early.
Mama continues to enforce her strict behavioral rules, and, like with their religious restrictions, Jacqueline and her siblings continue to feel set apart from other children by the norms of their family.
lessons. As Mama cooks pancakes, she tells Jacqueline that Georgiana tried to teach her how to cook, but she didn’t want to learn. She tells Jacqueline about how Robert was stealing peaches while she and Kay stayed inside cooking, and how Georgiana let them play outside that afternoon so they could have fun too. After they came back at suppertime, Mama says, “it was too late” to learn to cook.
As Jacqueline listens attentively to Mama’s story, the reader sees again how much she appreciates other people’s stories. It’s notable that when Woodson reproduces the scene of her younger self (Jacqueline) listening to her Mama’s story, she remembers such a fine level of detail from Mama’s descriptions—this speaks to Jacqueline’s close attention to her storytelling, even at this young age. Again, storytelling is a deep love of Jacqueline’s that allows her to access a past that either she doesn’t remember or wasn’t alive for.
trading places. When Maria’s mother makes a particular dish that Jacqueline really likes, Jacqueline brings a plate of Mama’s food to exchange for Maria’s dinner. Then they sit on Maria’s stoop and eat them side by side. When Maria says that Jacqueline’s mother makes the best chicken, Jacqueline responds, “I guess my grandma taught her something after all.”
This poem serves in part to show the budding friendship between Maria and Jacqueline. It also exemplifies cross-cultural, interracial exchange. This tender moment, which occurs between two children of color, models an acceptance and sociability between people of different races that the white people in the book so often fail to strive for. This moment also shows the subjectivity of Mama’s story in the preceding poem, since Maria and Jacqueline think she is a good cook.
writing #1. Jacqueline finds oral storytelling easier than writing. She struggles to remember the spellings of words and is frustrated by how much she must erase and rewrite.
Jacqueline continues to struggle with writing, which strengthens her preference for oral storytelling. She feels limited by written language in a way that she doesn’t when she speaks. Woodson shows the reader how Jacqueline’s language acquisition affects her storytelling capabilities.
late autumn. Jacqueline’s teacher Ms. Moskowitz tells her class to write their names on the board. Jacqueline writes it easily in print. When her teacher asks her to write it in cursive, she writes “Jackie” because the cursive “q” is so difficult. When Ms. Moskowitz asks if that’s what she wants to be called, Jacqueline nods to avoid explaining that she cannot write a cursive “q.”
In this poem, Woodson shows the reader how Jacqueline’s struggles with writing are not self-contained, and how her inability to express herself in writing affects her identity. Though she prefers to be called “Jacqueline,” she agrees to be called “Jackie,” since she does not want to admit she cannot write a cursive “q.” Her lack of control over her name due to her writing limitations shows how her struggle with writing prevents her from controlling her identity, as naming represents self-actualization at various points in the book.
the other woodson. When Jacqueline’s teachers meet her in the fall, they accidently call her Odella repeatedly because they look so much alike. They expect her to be as smart as Odella, and Jacqueline feels their interest in her waning as they realize that she is not as gifted as her older sister.
Odella’s brilliance continues to make Jacqueline feel insecure, as she feels her teachers slowly realizing that she is not as academically talented as her sister. Jacqueline continues, as described in other poems, to struggle with reading and writing, two skills at which Odella excels. It is unclear whether the teachers genuinely dismiss Jacqueline as a student, or Jacqueline’s insecurity makes her feel that way.
writing #2. As Mama listens to the radio, the song “Family Affair” comes on and she turns the volume up. Jacqueline transcribes the lyrics, which make her think of her pull between Brooklyn and Greenville. She is slowly becoming a proficient writer and reader by transcribing audio from radio or TV. Jacqueline’s mind wanders to the meaning of the song, and then her mother says, “stop daydreaming,” so Jacqueline returns to transcribing.
In the end, Jacqueline adjusts her learning method to improve her reading and writing skills. Jacqueline, for whom orality has always been easy and interesting, learns to write by transcribing the lyrics of the music on the radio. Again, Jacqueline’s interest in music, melody, and rhythm are integral to her ability to grasp writing, which foreshadows her decision to write her memoir in verse. Though the music keeps Jacqueline’s interest and helps her to understand writing, it also triggers her imagination, which she has to put aside in order to continue to focus on learning to write.
birch tree poem. Jacqueline’s teacher reads her class the poem “Birches” by Robert Frost. First she shows them a picture of a birch tree, and then she reads aloud. Jacqueline says “some of us put our heads on our desks to keep the happy tears from flowing.”
In this poem, Woodson shows the reader Jacqueline’s continued literary development, as she identifies a specific writerly influence. Though Jacqueline has been learning storytelling from her family and the books Odella reads aloud, Robert Frost’s poem is the first time Jacqueline mentions a specific work that she finds moving.
how to listen #6. Jacqueline states that when she sits under the oak tree on her street, “the world disappears.”
Perhaps influenced by Robert Frost’s poem about a different variety of tree, Jacqueline’s imagination wanders under a neighborhood oak.
reading. Jacqueline continues to have difficulty reading. Her teachers tell her to read more difficult material and to read faster. Jacqueline resists these commands, however, because she likes to read slowly and repeatedly so she can remember what she’s read.
Jacqueline’s difference in learning style continues to be a problem as her teachers push her to read harder books faster. For Jacqueline, the pleasure in reading lies in committing the stories to memory, which highlights the relationship that Jacqueline cherishes between memory, writing, and storytelling.
stevie and me. On Mondays, Mama takes the children to the library and allows them to pick out seven books each. Jacqueline relishes the fact that she can read whatever she wants, and she reads a book about a boy named Stevie, who, like her, is brown. Jacqueline enjoys reading books about “brown people,” and they make her feel that “someone like [her]” has a story to tell.
In this poem, Woodson shows the reader the power of literary representation and the importance of diversity in literature. When Jacqueline finds a book about a boy who, like her, has dark skin, she becomes excited because it makes her realize that “someone like [her] has a story to tell.” For Jacqueline, this is an essential moment in her development, as it validates her as a storyteller. The existence of the book encourages her to find her own voice, despite the pervasive racism that makes people of color feel that their stories aren’t valuable. Woodson suggests here the importance of publishing and assigning diverse children’s books.
when i tell my family. Jacqueline tells her family she wants to be a writer, and they respond by telling her that writing is a nice hobby, but that she should be a teacher or a lawyer. Jacqueline thinks that maybe her insistence that she will be a writer is another one of her made up stories.
Though Jacqueline feels validated in her storytelling by the books she connects with, Jacqueline’s family continues to devalue her imagination and her desire to be a writer. Though they have the best intentions, their gentle suggestions that she become a lawyer or a teacher make Jacqueline doubt her ability to be a writer, thinking it is an impossible dream.
daddy gunnar. One Saturday, Gunnar calls from Greenville, and all the children fight for the phone, so Mama makes them take turns. Gunnar coughs and asks how they are. Jacqueline tells him she loves him, and he responds in kind.
This poem shows how Gunnar continues to get sicker. Despite Jacqueline’s hope that their world in the South will not change, Gunnar’s phone call shows how life in Greenville is going on without them, emphasizing the distance between their lives in the North and the South.
hope onstage. Hope sings at a school concert, impressing and surprising his family with the quality of his voice. In response, Jacqueline thinks that maybe in each person there hides “a small gift from the universe waiting to be discovered.”
Jacqueline, always drawn to music, is impressed by her brother’s singing. As Hope is typically so quiet, his performance is especially impressive. When Jacqueline thinks that in each person there’s “a small gift…waiting to be discovered,” she is perhaps also referring to her own storytelling inclinations.
daddy this time. When the children return to Greenville for the summer, Roman comes with them, and he swings on the swing set that Gunnar cemented down. Gunnar is by now gravely ill. Jacqueline brings Gunnar chicken soup, but after a few mouthfuls he is too tired to eat.
Back in Greenville for the summer, Jacqueline notices changes to her home in the South. Some are good, and predictable: Roman is with them and the swing set is cemented down. Others, like Gunnar’s sickness, are upsetting. This poem shows how, despite Jacqueline’s wishes, her home in the South changed while she was in the North.
The other children avoid Gunnar’s sick room. Jacqueline, however, attends to Gunnar, who whispers between coughs that she is his favorite grandchild. Jacqueline tells him stories, occasionally speaking to him in the Spanish she learned from Maria. She sings to him, and he does not think she is off-key.
Jacqueline, who so often uses her storytelling to escape the troubles in her own life or ease her own discomfort, tells Gunnar stories on his sickbed. Storytelling, for Jacqueline, not only helps her express herself and control her own narrative, but it can also be used to comfort and heal others. Jacqueline puts to work many of the skills she’s learned in New York in this project, speaking Spanish and singing.
what everybody knows now. Despite the end of legal segregation in the South, Georgiana still sits in the back of the bus with the children to avoid “having white folks look at [them] like [they’re] dirt.” When Jacqueline argues that they aren’t dirt, Georgiana nods, but says it is easier to stay in the back. Jacqueline decides that when that she grows up she wants to be one of the people who sit in the front of the bus.
Even though legal segregation is over, the racial divides that plague Greenville are still in place. Georgiana’s decision to sit in the back of the bus in order to avoid conflict and derision shows how racial progress through legislation is limited in its efficacy. Although the legislative step of desegregation was essential, Woodson suggests here that, without changing the attitudes of people, it can only do so much. Unlike her grandmother, Jacqueline pledges to challenge the racist status quo.
Once in town, Georgiana and the children do not go into Woolworth’s. During one recent visit, the store employees would not help Georgiana and they made her wait an inordinately long time. Jacqueline imagines her well-dressed, dignified grandmother waiting “quietly long past her turn.”
When Georgiana tells Jacqueline about how she was not served at Woolworth’s because of her race, Jacqueline imagines the scene. She pictures Georgiana, who is so polished and upright in everything she does, respectfully waiting as the store employees ignore her out of racism and hate. Woodson seems to be suggesting that quietly and respectfully waiting for racial justice is not always effective, and she emphasizes the positive potential of Jacqueline’s vivid imagination.
end of summer. The Greenville summer ends and Robert takes the children back to New York. When Jacqueline hugs Gunnar, she notices he is extremely thin. They wave at their grandparents as their taxi pulls away.
Jacqueline and her siblings perform the same goodbyes they do every time they leave Greenville to return to New York, and once again Woodson shows how Jacqueline is caught between the South and the North. Gunnar’s sickness exacerbates the pain of leaving Greenville, since he is so unwell.
far rockaway. Robert doesn’t linger at the house when he arrives back at Madison Street with the children. The children tell him he must come back soon and take them to Coney Island as he promised. Robert assures them he won’t forget, while Mama gives him an ambiguous look. Jacqueline thinks of a recent incident when policemen knocked on their door late at night, looking for Robert. Mama tells Robert to stay safe and avoid trouble, and Robert assures her that he will.
Finally back in New York, Robert’s quick leave-taking makes Jacqueline and Mama suspicious. Woodson implies that Robert, who is a devoted, fun-loving uncle, is mixed up in trouble. Jacqueline seems to grasp the gist of the situation, taking in the ambiguous look that Mama gives to Robert and the quickness with which he leave the house. Strikingly, Jacqueline, who loves to fill in the gaps of situations she doesn’t understand, does not try to imagine what’s going on with Robert. This perhaps indicates her understanding that it is something unpleasant.
fresh air. Jacqueline, back from Greenville, looks for Maria, but Maria’s mother tells her Maria is in upstate New York visiting a family with a pool. When Maria returns, she tells Jacqueline that she stayed with rich white people, and that the people she stayed with told her she was poor and tried to give her things. Maria tried to explain to them that, in Brooklyn, she’s not poor. Jacqueline tells Maria she should come to Greenville next summer, and Maria says she will. The two of them write “Maria & Jackie Best Friends Forever” in chalk over and over again on the sidewalk.
Maria’s experience upstate with a rich white family highlights the gap in understanding between the well-meaning white family that takes her in and how Maria sees her own life. Though they are trying to help, the family’s insistence that Maria is poor and their attempts to give her gifts comes across as arrogant and condescending. Maria’s explanation— that in Brooklyn she’s not poor—shows how little the family understands the life and story of the girl they think they know. Both Jacqueline and Maria are clearly unimpressed by this show of misguided generosity. When Maria accepts Jacqueline’s offer to go to Greenville with her, the reader pictures a much happier summer, in which Maria is not a charity case, but a treasured friend.
p.s. 106 haiku. In a haiku form of poem, Jacqueline writes her name and her grade, and says that it’s raining outside.
Jacqueline experiments with writing her own poetry, drawing on the facts of her life, just as Woodson does in her memoir.
learning from langston. Jacqueline quotes Langston Hughes’s poem “Poem,” in which Hughes bemoans the loss of a friend. Jacqueline closely imitates the poem, but changes it to be a happy poem about her friendship with Maria.
In this poem, Woodson again shows how specific writers influence Jacqueline. As Jacqueline copies Langston Hughes’s work, Woodson displays Jacqueline taking on a kind of apprenticeship, learning from master writers while adding her own touch.
the selfish giant. Jacqueline’s teacher reads the Oscar Wilde story The Selfish Giant to the class. The story is about a giant who falls in love with a boy. The story makes Jacqueline cry. Later she begs Mama to take her to the library. Jacqueline checks the book out of the library to read over and over again.
Woodson adds to the list of literature that Jacqueline connects with deeply. Her excitement about the book shows how reading can be exciting for children (even despite persistent difficulty reading) when they find books that they personally connect with.
During class one day, Jacqueline’s teacher asks her to read aloud. Instead, Jacqueline recites the whole story of The Selfish Giant. Everyone is impressed, and Jacqueline does not know how to explain her propensity for telling and memorizing stories, but she realizes it is a gift.
Oscar Wilde’s book, which Jacqueline has read enough times to memorize it, helps Jacqueline become confident in and proud of her storytelling talent. When she recites the book off the cuff, impressing her classmates and teacher, Jacqueline receives the encouragement she needs to think of her imagination and memorization skills as a gift.
the butterfly poems. Jacqueline says she is writing a book about butterflies, and she looks in the encyclopedia at pictures of the butterflies for inspiration. No one believes that she can write an entire book about butterflies; Hope insists that it’s impossible since butterflies have short lives. But Jacqueline believes that on paper “things can live forever.”
Jacqueline, who is increasingly confident in her abilities as a writer and a storyteller, pores over an encyclopedia to get inspiration for her newest writing idea. Whereas previously Jacqueline internalized her family’s assertions that she could not be a writer, this time, when they say she cannot write the butterfly book, Jacqueline ignores them. She thinks about writing as a medium of infinite possibility.
six minutes. In groups, the women of Kingdom Hall write and perform skits about evangelization. Jacqueline asks to write her group’s skits all by herself. Jacqueline inserts horses and cows into the script, and Mama chastises her for being too imaginative. Jacqueline starts over, promising herself that she will use the rest of the story somewhere else.
Jacqueline asks to take on the responsibility of writing a skit for her church, continuing to find spaces to exercise her talent. Like the rest of the family, Mama lacks appreciation for Jacqueline’s powers of imagination and she criticizes Jacqueline for inserting horses and cows into what is suppose to be a realistic roleplay. Jacqueline agrees to make the skit more realistic, but promises herself she will use the story elsewhere, which shows her growing commitment to her own artistic vision.
first book. Jacqueline makes her first book. It is composed of haikus, and entitled “Butterflies.”
Jacqueline’s first book, written in spite of her family’s doubt, marks an important step for her as a writer and storyteller.
john’s bargain store. Jacqueline and Maria shop on Knickerbocker Avenue, a major shopping street. Jacqueline refuses to go into Woolworth’s because of the way they treat black people in Greenville, and so she and Maria go to a bargain store and buy matching t-shirts so they can dress alike each day. Jacqueline hopes someone will ask if they are cousins.
In New York, Jacqueline remembers how Woolworth’s employees treated her grandmother in the South because of her race, and she refuses to shop there in protest. In doing so, Jacqueline links her lives in the South and the North— though the North is more progressive, the same companies that discriminate based on race in the South profit from stores in the North. Jacqueline and Maria instead shop elsewhere, not letting the memory ruin their outing.
new girl. A new girl named Diana moves in next door and becomes friends with Maria and Jacqueline. Like Maria’s mother, Diana’s mother is from Puerto Rico. Maria tries to dispel Jacqueline’s worries that, as a result, Diana will surpass Jacqueline as her best friend. When it rains, Jacqueline jealously watches them play from her window.
Jacqueline’s worry that Diana will surpass her as Maria’s best friend stems in a large part because of Diana and Maria’s shared race, heritage, and culture. Though Maria insists this will not be the case, she cannot dispel Jacqueline’s worries. Race in Jacqueline’s life generally has served as a segregating factor, and so she worries that, with someone more racially and culturally similar to her, Maria will forget about Jacqueline.
pasteles & pernil. Jacqueline goes over to Maria’s house for her brother’s baptism. The two of them look at the baby, whose gown is pinned with money. The girls think about taking some, but worry that God is watching.
Jacqueline celebrates Maria’s brother’s baptism with her and her family, showing another instance of how Jacqueline and Maria, who practice different sects of Christianity, partake respectfully in each other’s culture. Despite Jacqueline’s ambivalence about religion, she fears God enough to not take the baby’s baptism money.
Maria’s mother cooks pernil, but Jacqueline cannot eat it because Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot eat pork. Instead she eats “pasteles” filled with chicken. There is a party at the house, and while the girls eat on the stoop, the adults dance merengue. When Jacqueline asks where Diana is, Maria says that she is coming later because “this part is just for my family.”
Jacqueline’s worries that Maria will choose Diana over her as a best friend are dispelled in this poem. During the pre-party, Jacqueline and Maria navigate each other’s cultural differences, such as Jacqueline’s religious prohibition from eating pork. When Maria includes Jacqueline in her definition of “family,” she not only affirms Jacqueline’s place in her life, but also disabuses Jacqueline of her worry that race would be a factor in their emotional connection.
curses. People tell Mama that Jacqueline and her siblings are very polite. They do not curse or behave in ways that Mama thinks are inappropriate. Their friends laugh at them for this and try to goad them into saying curse words. The children refuse, thinking of their mother.
Mama’s strict control over her children’s language seems to have worked, as the children are considered to be very polite. Although they are made fun of for their inability to curse, they stick to their mother’s orders, showing how firmly this early linguistic influence has shaped them.
afros. Robert comes to the house sporting an afro, and afterward Jacqueline begs Mama to let her wear her hair like that. Mama says no, but Mama wears her own hair in an afro. Jacqueline thinks this is unfair, but Mama says, “this is the difference between being a grown-up and being a child.” Jacqueline sticks her tongue out at her mother when she’s not looking, and Odella catches her. Odella repeats her mother’s phrase, rolls her eyes, and returns to reading.
Robert’s afro symbolizes, in part, his embrace of the Black Power Movement, which rose in the late 60s and 70s and included, among many other stances, an interest in celebrating natural hairstyles for black people rather than conforming to white, Eurocentric standards of beauty. Mama likewise adopts this hairstyle and supports the Black Power Movement (as will become explicit later), but refuses to allow Jacqueline to change her hair. The reader might remember, during this poem, the many hours Georgiana used to spend coaxing Jacqueline’s hair into smooth ringlets.
graffiti. Jacqueline and Maria try graffiti, but are caught by Robert. Jacqueline does not know how to express that she tried graffiti out of a desire to write. Robert is extremely angry, and Jacqueline doesn’t understand, because “they’re just words.”
For Jacqueline, who uses words as a positive and necessary form of self-expression, graffiti is an exciting new way of expressing herself. She cannot understand her uncle’s anger over her and Maria’s graffiti attempts, believing that words could not hurt anyone.
music. In the mornings, the family listens to the radio, and Mama lets the children choose what to play. Her only condition is that the songs can’t contain the word “funk.” Unfortunately, all the songs on the black radio stations that the children deem cool contain the word “funk,” so they have to listen to white stations. Odella likes the music, but Jacqueline sneaks over to Maria’s house to listen to the other music and to sing and dance along, repeating the word “funk” until it loses its meaning.
Mama, with her strict policy around language use, refuses to let the children listen to the exciting new music on the black radio stations because the songs use the word “funk.” While Odella happily complies and listens to white radio stations, Jacqueline, ever rebellious, sneaks to Maria’s house and listens to the banned music there. Jacqueline’s love of music prevails over her desire to obey her mother, and the reader can see that Jacqueline is beginning to question the ways in which Mama polices her language. Jacqueline sees words as unthreatening and neither essentially good nor bad, unlike Mama.
rikers island. Mama gets a phone call in the middle of the night from Robert, who has been thrown in jail. The next morning, Mama tells the children Robert won’t be around for a while since he is in jail, but she does not tell them why, except that he “played the wide road” rather than staying on the straight and narrow path. It rains that day, so the children must stay inside, and Jacqueline has writer’s block.
When Mama leads the children through the knowledge that their beloved uncle has been thrown in jail, she uses religious imagery to explain it to them, saying he did not stay on the straight and narrow path. Despite Mama’s own lack of enthusiasm for religion, she does seem to find it helpful in certain instances throughout the memoir.. Jacqueline is so troubled by this news that she cannot write at all, showing how her writing not only affects her life, but her life affects her writing.
moving upstate. Robert is moved to a prison upstate, where the family hopes to visit him soon. When people ask, Jacqueline does not tell them that Robert is in jail. She is still very upset about what happened.
Jacqueline, unable to face the painful reality of her beloved uncle’s imprisonment, resorts to making up stories and lying, as she did when people asked about her father. Again, Jacqueline’s storytelling becomes a form of emotional relief for her.
on the bus to dannemora. The family boards a bus to visit Robert in prison. Jacqueline falls in and out of sleep listening to the radio, and then thinks of a story, inspired by the song’s lyrics, about a love train full of free people. The bus is quiet, and Jacqueline thinks each of them is dreaming their own dream of relatives in prison who will one day be free.
On their way to visit Robert, Jacqueline finds storytelling inspiration in the lyrics of a song played over the radio (once again, the reader sees how Jacqueline is especially inspired by music). In Jacqueline’s mind, she pictures each of the people around her dreaming that their imprisoned relative is free and that they are all joined together in love. Jacqueline’s imaginative story is a source of both empathy and catharsis for her.
too good. Still on the bus, Jacqueline starts to make up a song. Odella asks who taught it to her, and she doesn’t believe Jacqueline when she says it is original, saying it’s “too good” for that. Jacqueline is happy about this accidental compliment.
Jacqueline continues to engage her imagination on the way to visit Robert in prison. When Odella doesn’t believe that Jacqueline made up the song, Odella’s doubt, rather than discouraging Jacqueline, encourages her. This is a sign of Jacqueline’s strengthening identity and confidence.
dannemora. At the prison, the family goes through the gate and past the guards. The prison disturbs Hope, and Jacqueline can tell. Jacqueline watches a security officer pat Hope down, and thinks how quickly he could become just an inmate number like Robert.
Jacqueline is disturbed by the idea that Hope, like Robert, could quickly be reduced to a criminal statistic. Woodson is perhaps referring here to unjust treatment of black people in the criminal justice system. One of the aims of the Black Power Movement was to change this relationship and to make the legal treatment of African-Americans fairer.
not robert. When the family sees Robert at last, he is not himself. His afro is shaved, and Jacqueline senses a sadness in him that did not exist before.
The fact that Robert’s afro is shaved makes Jacqueline sad. It represents how he has been forced to conform to prison standards and sacrifice his individuality and black pride.
mountain song. On the bus home from the prison, Jacqueline continues to develop the song she was writing about the mountains they pass on their trip. Jacqueline cries, thinking of Robert, Gunnar, and Greenville: things she perceives as already lost. Jacqueline thinks that if she can remember the song and write it down later, she will be a writer, able to capture every memory.
In this poem, Jacqueline synthesizes her understanding of the relationship between comfort, writing, and memory. Jacqueline plans to use writing as a way of combatting her fear of losing the people she loves, because writing will allow her to commit those people to memory forever. Jacqueline’s sense of memory as the preservation of her loved ones, and her use of writing as a way to create memory, shows how she is beginning to understand her writerly motivation.
poem on paper. When Jacqueline’s family asks what she is writing, she gives them vague answers. Mama tells Jacqueline that anything is fine as long as she doesn’t write about their family, and Jacqueline thinks she is not really doing so.
Once again, Mama’s idea of what Jacqueline’s writing should be contrasts with Jacqueline’s. Jacqueline, however, defies Mama’s instructions, asserting her own sense of the proper subject for her writing.
daddy. In the spring, Georgiana informs the family that Gunnar is dying, and tells them to come to Greenville. The weather, Mama says, is the kind of weather Gunnar loved to garden in. The family flies to Greenville, and Jacqueline wants to tell Gunnar all about the flight. However, Gunnar is asleep when they arrive, and that night he dies. The silent funeral procession winds through Nicholtown. The family buries Gunnar, tossing handfuls of dirt on the casket.
When Georgiana calls the family to tell them that Gunnar is dying, Jacqueline’s biggest worries and worst fears come true. Before Jacqueline can share more stories with Gunnar, who always encouraged her storytelling gift, Gunnar passes away. Jacqueline notes that the funeral procession is silent—significant because she loves sound so much. The family says goodbye to Gunnar by tossing the Greenville dirt on his casket, which, for Jacqueline, always represented both the South and Gunnar, who loved to garden.
how to listen #7. Jacqueline states that a person can find stories in silence if they listen.
Jacqueline, reeling from the grief of Gunnar’s death, is still able to find storytelling inspiration in the silence he leaves behind.