This is the "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" page of the "A Guide to the Ernest J. Gaines Center" guide.
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A Guide to the Ernest J. Gaines Center   Tags: african american, ernest j. gaines, history, literature, national endowment for the humanities  

This guide will give you information about Ernest J. Gaines and the Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Last Updated: Jan 17, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman Print Page

Picture Files


Miss Jane's Oak Tree

This tree, located in Pointe Couppee Parish, served as the inspiration for Miss Jane's Oak Tree.


Speech on Miss Jane Pittman




The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

Background Information:

There are numerous sites online that have study questions and information on the novel. Glencoe's study guide provides excellent activities and insight into The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Nicole Mabile-Pipsair also has some excellent study questions for the novel. 

Questions to Consider: 

  • What is Ned trying to accomplish with his words to the children and with his school building? What is his definition of a "black American"? How would that "black American" be looked upon today?  
  • In a speech, Gaines stated that Miss Jane "did not fight war, make laws, marry a great politician or statesman or writer or doctor," but we should still care about her. Why should we care about Miss Jane's story? 
  • Albert Cluveau plays an important role in the novel. How does his relationship with Miss Jane, and the other people in the novel, affect the way that you view the murder of Ned? Does it change your view of him in any way? 
  • Why did Jane and Ned move on from the river house full of children but stay at the plantation rather than head north? Why did Jane give up her dream of living free in the North? 
  • What is the role of Jimmy in the community? Why does the community view him as a "cultural messiah"? Why couldn't Miss Jane have been the community's messiah? 
  • Miss Jane receives her name at the beginning of the novel. What role does naming playing within the novel? 

Possible Activities: 

  • Have students research the unique relationships between African Americans, whites, Cajuns, and Creoles in Louisiana. How does the information they discovered illuminate the reading of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
  • Gaines originally intended for the novel to be told from multiple points of view. In fact, the first draft became The Short Biography of Miss Jane Pittman. Have students explore the differences between autobiography and biography then discuss how the novel would have been different or similar as a biography instead of an autobiography. 
  • Have students research some of the important historical events and people in the novel (Reconstruction. Huey P. Long, the 1827 flood, Jackie Robinson, etc.) then have them discuss how Miss Jane's views concerning these events and people adds to our understanding of them. 
  • Have students interview someone about an historical event or person. Then, have students write a biography recounting that person's thoughts and feelings about the event or person.  
  • Have students watch the film version of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman then discuss the differences or similarities between the novel and the film. Have them explain how the differences change, in any way, the story.
  • Have students create a time line of the events that occur in Miss Jane's life. This would include both her personal events and the historical events described in the novel. 



Gaines on Writing

People have asked me quite often, "Who do you write for?" I say I don't write for any particular group. But if there's a gun put to my head and someone says, "OK, name somebody you write for," I'd say," I write for the black youth of the South." And if there are two groups, I'd say, "I write for the black and white youth of the South." Those are the people I would write for.

Number one, I would want the black youth to say, "Hey, I am somebody." And I'd want the white youth to say, "Hey, that is part of me out there, and I can only understand myself truly if I can understand my neighbor." That's the only way one can understand himself, if he can understand other things around him. We live--you know, Donne's "No man is an island" and "Don't ask for whom the bell tolls"--Every little piece of things around us makes us a little bit whole. We can go through the world being half people, and most of us do that most of our lives. But in order to understand more about ourselves and the world, we must understand what's around. So that's what I'd want: the white kids to understand what the black kid is, and the black kid to understand who he is, if I had to write for any group. 


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