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The Twelve-Mile Straight


An audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the...
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Discuss The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson:
How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Created: 07/11/18

Replies: 9

Posted Jul. 11, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1626

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How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Nan has her tongue cut out at a young age, rendering her mute. How does this state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family? Is there any way in which she is able to establish agency in spite of this?


Posted Jul. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
rebeccar

Join Date: 03/13/12

Posts: 363

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Nan's muteness was often equated with lack of intelligence. People then overlooked her even more than they might other African Americans in that time period. Also, Nan could not scream for help if she wanted to, and her inability to speak made her afraid to indicate that she needed help. She was too scared to run away because she could not seek communicate (without revealing that she knew how to read and write.)


Posted Jul. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Marcia S

Join Date: 02/08/16

Posts: 179

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Nan literally had no voice. Being black already put her at a disadvantage in the Jesup household, and the entire South. She was forced to "go along" with events as they unfolded. Elma cared about Nan but, she too, used Nan. Nan really had no choices.


Posted Jul. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
marys

Join Date: 05/24/11

Posts: 39

RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Nan's mother did her a huge disservice in cutting out her tongue on so many levels. Rendering her mute made her so vulnerable. Although being mute did make many assume that she lacked intelligence, giving her a little bit of protection, it also meant she could never cry for help. She is very fortunate that she could read and write and thus had a form of communication with people who didn't know her well.


Posted Jul. 16, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Peggy H

Join Date: 06/13/11

Posts: 235

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Her inability to speak served as a physical reminder of her social lack of voice in the time and place of the
novel. I found it a useful element.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
amberb

Join Date: 07/28/11

Posts: 92

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

This act was deeply symbolic on so many levels!

Women - especially women of color - in those days had to fight so hard to have any power or any voice at all. Because they had been "property" for so long, they were seen as less than human. The gendered power structure in this book in particular felt overwhelming - from the women at the factory to the women in each home.

The greater tragedy of Nan's loss was compounded by the fact that the act was committed by her own mother, who instead of helping her, handicapped her in a way that hurt her for the rest of her life. So this act causes us to consider what effects our mother's actions have upon our lives. How to they help us? How do they hurt us? Ketty thought she was protecting her daughter from getting tongue cancer, but at what cost?


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
karenrn

Join Date: 08/29/13

Posts: 93

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Nan's physical muteness was a mirror of the lack of voice that women and black people had at that time. Unfortunately black women still face discrimination just not as blatant as it used to be. Her mother hurt her daughter through ignorance. She thought the cancer was inherited but it was actually from chewing tobacco. I am not sure if they knew about that in 1930.


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 259

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

I echo amberb. Nan’s state of being mute— and supposedly for her own good, out of ignorance, to prevent cancer—is a powerful symbolic statement about the status of all black women in her society. It is only a slight stretch of the truth that she would have no voice anyway, even with a tongue. That mothers would protect daughters from the brutal consequences of speaking up, by teaching them and modeling for them the need for “playing dumb.” Silence as a strategy born from ignorance, a lack of knowledge and the ability to imagine an alternative, which comes from knowledge. Fortunately Nan learned to read and write, giving her a voice at a critical moment in the story.

In reality and in the novel, Nan’s voicelessness was the extreme end of the spectrum of female voicelessness, for white women as well in her society. Even Parthenia Wilson has no say or influence despite what she thinks. She has to look the other way to keep her position in society. The only man in this story to treat a woman as an equal and ask what she wants —Oliver— is symbolically emasculated by the disease of polio.
m


Posted Jul. 19, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
melanieb

Join Date: 08/30/14

Posts: 125

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

I think Nan is necessary to the Jessup family because she is a confidante and a blood relative. Nan is mute so Elma and Juke feel somewhat assured she is a good listener and can’t tell others what goes on in their home. Nan is able to provide assistance to the family in her work delivery babies and there is Juke’s knowledge that he is father to Nan. Nan’s place within the family is defined by a silent but powerful presence.


Posted Aug. 28, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
taking.mytime's Gravatar
taking.mytime

Join Date: 03/29/16

Posts: 97

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RE: How does Nan's state further entrench her status within the racial and gendered power structure of the Jesup family?

Nan lived under the Jesup roof, originally because Ketty, as housekeeper, did too. Being black, a mute black female, put Nan at the bottom of the Jesup family structure. Elma took over the speaking for Nan. They became very close - like sisters. But being mute also allowed Juke to have his way with her without worry that she would talk.


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