Summary and Analysis Project
by Amanda Block
The heavy and harsh rain on the auction day.
Interludes I and II: "A Picture is Worth a Thoudand Words" and "What Goes Around Comes Around."
The rain was coming down harder than it had in a long time. Both Emma as an old woman and the slave-seller as an old man remember the rain on the day of the auction as if it were yesterday. However, they both remember it from a different perspective.
Emma looks back on that day and remembers having to shout to be heard. Her grandmother, Granny Wilma, said that was the most it rained in all her time. Emma thinks she was 12 when she lived on the Butler Plantation. In modern times, African Americans can read, write, and are educated equally unlike back when Emma was a slave. All of Emma’s children and grandchildren received an education. Emma’s granddaughter, Jessie Mae, said that the plantation must have been started 200 years ago. Everyday Emma asks her children what they learned in school and one day her eldest daughter, Sarah, told her that she learned a picture is worth a thousand words. Emma said that was dumb because no picture could make you feel the way she or how all of the other slaves did. If you took a picture of the auction day, you would see the hard rain and the Butler Plantation slaves being sold away but you wouldn't really feel what was happening so Emma thought that picture would be a lie.
The slave-seller was there at the auction day as well but, he was selling instead of being sold. He said the rain was as heavy as a water fall and he knew he had to shout to be heard. The slave-seller had in mind that this auction was going to make his reputation. He planned to have auction houses all around the south. By the time the auction was done, the slave-seller lost his voice. After awhile he went to the doctor and the doctor said he ruined his vocal box and his voice was going to stay at a whisper, which would prove to be a challenge given the nature of an auctioneer needing to be heard.
The slave-seller began looking for a new job. He had ambitions of applying to oversee a slave plantation. However, he knew the slaves barely listen to an overseer when they shout, let alone a soft whisper. He felt they would laugh at him trying to order them around armed only with his whisper. The slave-seller felt defeated and went back to the farm he inherited with his brother. He worked off the farm until The Civil War broke out. The slave-seller joined the confederate army and at his first battle, he took a bullet to the leg. Later, he got an infection called Gangrene and had his leg amputated. There was no place in the army for a one legged man so he went back to the farm and just gets by on the vegetables he grows.
How hard the rain fell was the only thing Emma as an old woman and the slave-seller as an old man talked out in common. They both had different thoughts and sides of what happened the day of the auction, but it is very ironic of how everything turned out.
The Ohio River that the slaves had to cross to be free.
Analysis: Reading in Between the Lines
When Julius Lester’s novel, Day of Tears, is observed through a formalist perspective, one clearly sees the value in his ability to relate to everyday people through symbols and other figurative language. In Interludes I “Emma as an Old Woman,” and Interlude II “The slave-seller as an Old Man,” Lester portrays his intended theme through smiles, irony, and allusions.
Emma and the slave-seller alike clearly recall the rain of the auction day in both Interludes I “Emma as an Old Woman,” and Interlude II “The slave-seller as an Old Man.” In the words of Emma, “The rain was so hard and so loud it was like doing the grieving for us “(15). Emma’s words represent a comparison of a harsh storm and the similarities it hold to one's feelings on a dismal and harsh day such as the auction day. The slave-seller on the other hand, does not see the harsh reality Emma does on the cold hard rainy day. He simply remembers having to shout because the rain was too loud and it was hard to hear him call the slaves. Lester portrays his theme through irony, giving the slave-seller a character with ambition. The slave-seller wants to be the best in the business. While Emma is a strong gentle character who did not receive the dignity that a human being should receive from the whites in this era, due to her life as a slave. In later years, the slave-seller couldn't accomplish his dream because he lost his voice and couldn't be heard at the auction. Then, during the Civil War, the slave-seller lost his leg at his first battle and now lives alone. Meanwhile, Emma lives free with her children and grandchildren alike, who all received what was considered a stellar education at the time.
From reading the novel Day of Tears, one can infer that Lester has negative feelings towards slavery. He shows this by giving the slaves a chance to run away. For example, in chapter 10 “The Henfield Plantation Barn” Emma, Joe, Charles, Winnie with her baby tries to run away. As the slaves try to walk out of their barn Sampson, Charles’s dad, walks in and tries to stop them. Charles ends up punching his dad because he had a goal in mind and was determined to reach it even if it involved hurting someone he loved. In order to be free one must cross the Ohio River. Crossing the Ohio River creates an illusion to the biblical story where the Jewish had to cross the Jordan River for their freedom. As the slaves crossed the river it was down pouring, this is symbolic to their final test as slaves; their final test before freedom.
In Lester’s novel he uses similes, irony, and allusions to prove his theme. Viewing this novel through a formalist lens can help readers really understand the book. Looking through the formalist lens, one can figure out the hidden messages Lester intended by using figurative language and symbolism.