By Wm. Lee Carter
Story Setting and Summary
Rural Cassville, Georgia is the fictitious setting of the story. The year is 1891, a time when the post-construction Deep South still remembers The War.
Following a self-imposed four-year exile from home, Quincy Woodrow returns to Cassville’s African-American shanty town. The community embraces the young adult’s return – all but his brother Woody, who has lingering feelings of bitterness about Quincy’s impulsive decision to flee in the wake of false accusations of murdering a white man. Woody’s interpretation is that Quincy’s decision raised valid questions about his guilt and put the rest of the tightly-knit community at risk for retaliation by the dominant local whites. Woody is further annoyed when Quincy remains silent about his actions during the four-year absence. Woody’s wife, Ruby, and blind grandmother, Mama Drieka, struggle to keep peace between the siblings.
As soon as Quincy’s return spreads, local bigot, Clyde Rawlins, vows revenge for his wife’s cousin’s death. Clyde’s hatred for anyone different than he is so strong, he has no concern for facts; he simply wishes to force his ways on others. Only days after the prodigal brother’s return, Clyde and a few like-minded men burn his shack. Their only regret is that Quincy was not inside when it was torched.
Mr. Guillebeau, owner of a gristmill and Woody’s employer, speaks to Woody on behalf of those white people who disdain bigotry and tries to befriend him. He advocates an improved relationship between Woody and Quincy. Ruby, who works as a domestic in the Guillebeau household, accepts her wayward brother-in-law, but simultaneously shows loving support for her husband’s personal struggle.
When the shanty town community mulls over their options after the burning of Quincy’s house, Woody’s hand is forced when his opinion is sought. Directly opposing his brother and the overwhelming majority of the other African-Americans, Woody hesitantly speaks against forceful revenge against the white bigots. He becomes depressed over the response against him. His despair deepens when Ruby is assaulted by three white men and suggests to him that perhaps Quincy’s view has merit. Before she reveals she is pregnant, she bemoans the thought that her child might endure the hardships that she currently suffers.
Even when the African-American community copes with their oppressed status with alternating humor and resolve, Woody and Quincy continue to be at odds with one another.
The anger that drives Clyde Rawlins vicious behavior takes its toll on him as his wife deserts him. Unwilling to let go of hatred, Clyde organizes a lynch mob to bring backwoods justice to Cassville by hanging Quincy. Easily holding off the overmatched black community, Quincy is taken captive by the mob. Just when it seems he has no more fight left in him, Mr. Guillebeau arrives and dramatically demands that Clyde hang him before he kills an innocent man. Clyde’s bigoted brand of enmity is no match for Mr. Guillebeau’s challenge. In coming weeks, Clyde sinks into despair and presumably drowns himself in a drunken stupor.
Quincy struggles to comprehend the events that exonerated him and erased the title of “prodigal” from his name. He finds himself curiously attracted to character of the white man who literally saved his life. Until he faced death by hanging, he had failed to recognize that he, like Clyde Rawlins, lacked the capacity to love those different than himself. Mr. Guillebeau challenges Quincy to embrace the chance for personal growth and points to Woody as one in need of brotherly love.
Woody keeps his distance from Quincy, though he notices that something is different about his brother. Ruby prods her loving husband to accept his brother’s figurative olive branch, but he cannot. In a dramatic turn, Ruby goes into early labor pains. The excitement that she and Woody will share their love with their first-born child ends in tragedy when Ruby and the baby die in childbirth. Devastated, Woody seeks comfort from Mr. Guillebeau, but cannot find it. While walking alone one night, he has an ethereal experience with Ruby in which he somehow hears her talking to him. When he returns to his house he learns that Quincy has had a similar experience. It is then that Woody allows a sense of peace to permeate his soul as he accepts his brother’s embrace, much to the delight of their blind grandmother.