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The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is a 1971 novel by Ernest J. Gaines. The story depicts the struggles of African Americans as seen through the eyes of the narrator, a woman named Jane Pittman. She tells of the major events of her life from the time she was a young slave girl in the American South at the end of the Civil War.
The novel and its main character are particularly notable for the breadth of time and history and stories they recall. In addition to the plethora of fictional characters who populate Jane’s narrative, Jane and others make many references to historical events and figures over the close-to-a hundred years Miss Jane can recall. In addition to its obvious opening in the American Civil War, Jane alludes to the Spanish–American War and her narrative spans across both World Wars and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Jane and other characters also mention Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Jackie Robinson, Fred Shuttlesworth, Rosa Parks, and others. Corporal Brown’s voice give these historical meditations a kind of “setting the record straight” mood to the storytelling presented in this novel. For instance, an entire section is dedicated to Huey P. Long in which Miss Jane explains “Oh, they got all kinds of stories about her now …. When I hear them talk like that I think, ‘Ha. You ought to been here twenty-five, thirty years ago. You ought to been here when poor people had nothing.'”Because of the historical content, some readers thought the book was non-fiction. Gaines commented:
Some people have asked me whether or not The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is fiction or nonfiction. It is fiction. When Dial Press first sent it out, they did not put “a novel” on the galleys or on the dustjacket, so a lot of people had the feeling that it could have been real. … I did a lot of research in books to give some facts to what Miss Jane could talk about, but these are my creations. I read quite a few interviews performed with former slaves by the WPA during the thirties and I got their rhythm and how they said certain things. But I never interviewed anybody.