Uncle Peter

played in the movie, Gone With the Wind, by Eddie Anderson

Like most of the slave depicted in Margaret Mitchell's novel, Uncle Peter views the Yankee's efforts at the reconstruction of the South as an unwanted intrusion upon his established way of life. Uncle Peter displays a childish, unquestioning belief in the old ways that not shown to be problematic for those of his race.

As opposed to Charles Bon from Absalom, Absalom!, Uncle Peter never questions the role and rights of the Negro in the "new" South. Perhaps even to a greater degree than Uncle Peter, Clytemnestra Sutpen shows her loyalty to her "family," but Faulkner clearly depicts this allegiance to be ineffectual in the aftermath of the war.

In the passage from Gone With the Wind, Uncle Peter shows pride and indignation in the face of his humiliation by the Yankee women. Peter's accusation of her lack of loyalty to her family stings Scarlett O'Hara but is ineffectual in dissuading her from fraternizing with the "enemy."

(from chapter 38 of Gone With the Wind)

Accepting Uncle Tom's Cabin as revelation second only to the Bible, the Yankee women all wanted to know about the bloodhounds which every Southerner kept to track down runaway slaves. And they never believed her when she told them she had only seen one bloodhound in all her life and it was a small mild dog and not a huge ferocious mastiff. They wanted to know about the dreadful branding irons which planters used to mark the faces of their slaves and the cat-o'-nine-tails with which they beat them to death, and they evidenced what Scarlett felt was a very nasty and ill-bred interest in slave concubinage. Especially did she resent this in view of the enormous increase in mulatto babies in Atlanta since the Yankee soldiers had settled in the town.

Any other Atlanta woman would have expired in rage at having to listen to such bigoted ignorance but Scarlett managed to control herself. Assisting her in this was the fact that they aroused her contempt more than her anger. After all, they were Yankees and no one expected anything better from Yankees. So their unthinking insults to her state, her people and their morals, glanced off and never struck deep enough to cause her more than a well concealed sneer until an incident occurred which made her sick with rage and showed her, if she needed any showing, how wide was the gap between North and South and how utterly impossible it was to bridge it.

While driving home with Uncle Peter one afternoon, she passed the house into which were crowded the families of three officers who were building their own homes with Scarlett's lumber. The three wives were standing in the walk as she drove by and they waved to her to stop. Coming out to the carriage block they greeted her in accents that always made her feel that one could forgive Yankees almost anything except their voices.

"You are just the person I want to see, Mrs. Kennedy," said a tall thin woman from Maine. "I want to get some information about this benighted town."

Scarlett swallowed the insult to Atlanta with the contempt it deserved and smiled her best.

"And what can I tell you?"

"My nurse, my Bridget, has gone back North. She said she wouldn't stay another day down here among the 'naygurs' as she calls them. And the children are just driving me distracted! Do tell me how to go about getting another nurse. I do not know where to apply."

"That shouldn't be difficult," said Scarlett and laughed. "If you can find a darky just in from the country who hasn't been spoiled by the Freedmen's Bureau, you'll have the best kind of servant possible. Just stand at your gate here and ask every darky woman who passes and I'm sure--

The three women broke into indignant outcries.

"Do you think I'd trust my babies to a black nigger?" cried the Maine woman. "I want a good Irish girl."

"I'm afraid you'll find no Irish servants in Atlanta," answered Scarlett, coolness in her voice. "Personally, I've never seen a white servant and I shouldn't care to have one in my house. And," she could not keep a slight note of sarcasm from her words, "I assure you that darkies aren't Cannibals and are quite trustworthy."

" Goodness, no! I wouldn't have one in my house. The idea!"

"I wouldn't trust them any farther than I could see them and as for letting them handle my babies . . ."

Scarlett thought of the kind, gnarled hands of Mammy worn rough in Ellen's service and hers and Wade's. What did these strangers know of black hands, how dear and comforting they could be, how unerringly they knew how to soothe, to pat, to fondle? She laughed shortly.

"It's strange you should feel that way when it was you all who freed them."

"Lor'! Not I, dearie," laughed the Maine woman. "I never saw a nigger till I came South last month and I don't care if I never see another. They give me the creeps. I wouldn't trust one of them. . . ."

For some moments Scarlett bad been conscious that Uncle Peter was breathing hard and sitting up very straight as he stared steadily at the horse's ears. Her attention was called to him more forcibly when the Maine woman broke off suddenly with a laugh and pointed him out to her companions.

"Look at that old nigger swell up like a toad," she giggled. "I'll bet he's an old pet of yours, isn't he? You Southerners don't know how to treat niggers. You spoil them to death."

Peter sucked in his breath and his wrinkled brow showed deep furrows but he kept his eyes straight ahead. He had never had the term "nigger" applied to him by a white person in all his life. By other negroes, yes. But never by a white person. And to be called untrustworthy and an "old pet," he, Peter, who had been the dignified mainstay of the Hamilton family for years!

Scarlett felt, rather than saw, the black chin begin to shake with hurt, pride, and a killing rage swept over her. She had listened with calm contempt while these women had underrated the Confederate Army, blackguarded Jeff Davis and accused Southerners of murder and torture of their slaves. If it were to her advantage she would have endured insults about her own virtue and honesty. But the knowledge that they had hurt the faithful old darky with their stupid remarks fired her like a match in gunpowder. For a moment she looked at the big horse pistol in Peter's belt and her hands itched for the feel of it. They deserved killing, these insolent, ignorant, arrogant conquerors. But she bit down on her teeth until her jaw muscles stood out, reminding herself that the time had not yet come when she could tell the Yankees just what she thought of them. Some day, yes. My God, yes! But not yet.

"Uncle Peter is one of our family," she said, her voice shaking. Good afternoon. Drive on, Peter."

Peter laid the whip on the horse so suddenly that the startled animal jumped forward and as the buggy jounced off, Scarlett heard the Maine woman say with puzzled accents: "Her family? You don't suppose she meant a relative? He's exceedingly black."

God damn them! They ought to be wiped off the face of the earth. If ever I get money enough, I'll spit in all their faces! I'll--"

She glanced at Peter and saw that a tear was trickling down his nose. Instantly a passion of tenderness, of grief for his humiliation swamped her, made her eyes sting. It was as though someone had been senselessly brutal to a child. Those women bad hurt Uncle Peter--Peter who had been through the Mexican War with old Colonel Hamilton, Peter who had held his master in his arms when he died, who had raised Melly and Charles and looked after the feckless, foolish Pittypat, "pertecked" her when she refugeed, and "'quired" a horse to bring her back from Macon through a war-torn country after the surrender. And they said they wouldn't trust niggers!

"Peter," she said, her voice breaking as she put her hand on his thin arm. "I'm ashamed of you for crying. What do you care? They aren't anything but damned Yankees!"

"Dey talked in front of me lak Ah wuz a mule an' couldn' unnerstan' dem--lak Ah wuz a Affikun an' din' know whut dey wuz talkin' 'bout," said Peter, giving a tremendous sniff. "An' dey call me a nigger an' Ah' ain' never been call a nigger by no w'ite folks, an' dey call me a ole pet an' say dat niggers ain' ter be trus'ed! Me not ter be trus'ed! Why, w'en de ole Cunnel wuz dyin' he say ter me, 'You, Peter! You look affer mah chillun. Tek keer of yo' young Miss Pittypat,' he say, "cause she ain' got no mo' sense dan a hoppergrass.' An' Ah done tek keer of her good all dese y'ars--"

"Nobody but the Angel Gabriel could have done better," said Scarlett soothingly. "We just couldn't have lived without you."

"Yas'm, thankee kinely, Ma'm. Ah knows it an' you knows it, but dem Yankee folks doan know it an' dey doan want ter know it, Huccome dey come mixin' in our bizness, Miss Scarlett? Dey doan unnerstan' us Confedruts."

Scarlett said nothing for she was still burning with the wrath she had not exploded in the Yankee women's faces. The two drove home in silence. Peter's sniffles stopped and his underlip began to protrude gradually until it stuck out alarmingly. His indignation was mounting, now that the initial hurt was subsiding.

Scarlett thought: What damnably queer people Yankees are! Those women seemed to think that because Uncle Peter was black, he had no ears to hear with and no feelings, as tender as their own, to be hurt. They did not know that negroes had to be handled gently, as though they were children, directed, praised, petted, scolded. They didn't understand negroes or the relations between the negroes and their former masters. Yet they bad fought a war to free them. And having freed them, they didn't want to have anything to do with them, except to use them to terrorize Southerners. They didn't like them, didn't trust them, didn't understand them, and yet their constant cry was that Southerners didn't know how to get along with them.

Not trust a darky! Scarlett trusted them far more than most white people, certainly more than she trusted any Yankee. There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy. She thought of the faithful few who remained at Tara in the face of the Yankee invasion when they could have fled or joined the troops for lives of leisure. But they had stayed. She thought of Dilcey toiling in the cotton fields beside her, of Pork risking his life in neighboring hen houses that the family might eat, of Mammy coming to Atlanta with her to keep her from doing wrong. She thought of the servants of her neighbors who had stood loyally beside their white owners, protecting their mistresses while the men were at the front, refugeeing with them through the terrors of the war, nursing the wounded, burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, working, begging, stealing to keep food on the tables. And even now, with the Freedmen's Bureau promising all manner of wonders, they still stuck with their white folks and worked much harder than they ever worked in slave times. But the Yankees didn't understand these things and would never understand them.

"Yet they set you free," she said aloud.

"No, Ma'm! Dey din' sot me free. Ah wouldn' let no sech trash sot me free," said Peter indignantly. "Ah still b'longs ter Miss Pitty an' w'en Ah dies she gwine lay me in de Hamilton buhyin' groun' whar Ah b'longs . . . . Mah Miss gwine ter be in a state w'en Ah tells her 'bout how you let dem Yankee women 'sult me."

"I did no such thing!" cried Scarlett, startled.

"You did so, Miss Scarlett," said Peter, pushing out his lip even farther. "De pint is, needer you nor me had no bizness bein' wid Yankees, so dey could 'sult me. Ef you hadn't talked wid dem, dey wouldn' had no chance ter treat me lak a mule or a Affikun. An' you din' tek up fer

me, needer."

"I did, too!" said Scarlett, stung by the criticism. "Didn't I tell them you were one of the family?"

"Dat ain' tekkin' up. Dat's jes' a fac'," said Peter. "Miss Scarlett, you ain' got no bizness havin' no truck wid Yankees. Ain' no other ladies doin' it. You wouldn' ketch Miss Pitty wipin' her lil shoes on sech trash. An' she ain' gwine lake it w'en she hear 'bout whut dey said 'bout me."

Peter's criticism hurt worse than anything Frank or Aunt Pitty or the neighbors had said and it so annoyed her she longed to shake the old darky until his toothless gums clapped together. What Peter said was true but she hated to bear it from a negro and a family negro, too. Not to stand high in the opinion of one's servants was as humiliating a thing as could happen to a Southerner.

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