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White Lilacs

Literature Circles Cumulative Project: A quick overview of White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer.

Surbhi Kumar

on 3 May 2011

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Transcript of White Lilacs

White Lilacs White Lilacs By Caroline Meyer S e g r e g a t i o n A recurring theme that pops up every day, Is growing by the minute. Main Characters Rose Lee Jefferson
Charlie Jefferson
Elvie Jefferson
Grandfather Jim
Grandmother Lila
Aunt Tillie
Catherine Jane
Aunt Susanna
“Back then--and this was in 1921--Freedom, as we called it, was our part of Dillion...It just happened that Freedom was right in the middle of Dillon, white people on every side of us. But we all got along fine, long as we colored folks stayed in our part of town except to work. At least that’s what I thought” (Meyer 10). White Lilacs takes place in 1921 in a black enclave, Freedomtown, in Dillon, Texas. In the midst of the city of supremacist whites, the majority of the black residents of Freedomtown make their livings by working for the white residents in one way or another, making and serving their food, ironing their attire, even cleaning their houses. Life for the blacks goes on tranquilly enough--that is, until the whites plan to raze the neighborhood and forcibly relocate the black families to an ugly, polluted strech of territory outside Freedomtown, just to build themselves yet another park. Presentation by Surbhi Kumar By Carolyn Meyer Main Characters Main Characters Rose Lee Jefferson Henry Grandfather Jim Although many conflicts present themselves throughout the book, two main conflicts are dominant. The first, and most obvious, is the uprooting of the black community of Freedomtown in place of a city park. This conflict is unveiled when Rose Lee is serving Mrs.Bell and her white friends at a luncheon at Mrs. Bell's house. Rose Lee overhears the city council of Dillon, Texas' plans to raze Freedomtown and replace it with a park. Rose Lee spreads this information to the people of Freedomtown and anyone who comes to her father's barbershop, and the proposal unleashes a tumult of rage and defiance in the black community. Rose Lee and the other residents of Freedomtown cannot bear the thought of losing their homes and relocating to a much worse, filthy, dilapidated ghetto called Dogtown. This story, told from the perspective of 12-year old Rose Lee, shows her insight and what she thinks of this horrible quagmire. A question that pops up continuously in the reader's mind throughout the book to the very end is will Rose Lee, her family, and their African American counterparts be able to save their flourishing community, or will they be forcefully evicted from their abodes and have to leave their neighborhood, community, and cherised memories behind?
Another blatant conflict in this novel is the concept of servants, and how African Americans still have to work for Whites, despite the Emancipation Proclamation being passed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 (The year this novel is written is 1921). The conflict is created by the frustration that the blacks, such as Rose Lee and her family, feel in the Segated South in the early twentieth century. In addition, the Jim Crow laws resulted in much consternation to erupt amongst the Black community at the time. " 'We can't let the white man take away our homes to build his parks, to protect his women from the filthy presence of a colored child!" Henry said. "We must say no to anyone who tries to take away from us what is ours. We must say no in a way the white man understands, so that he can make no mistake about it!' " (Meyer 93). Henry is Rose Lee's older brother. He was a World War I veteran and a follower of Marcus Garvey, who beilieved that African Americans are not treated equally in Texas, let along Freedomtown, and every black should move to their homeland, Africa. Henry has adopted a similar opinion. Henry not only beilieves in speaking up for his rights, but also taking action to acquire them. Henry is a very confident, stubborn character and does many things throughout the book to show that African Americans are equal. Such actions cause him to get in trouble. Although he might seem ruthless at first glance, he is very kind and considerate to his family and, especially, Rose Lee. I would definitely reccomend because the novel is a very realistic portrayal of the precarious existence of African-Americans in the South and how their sense of community and faith helps them survive. Varying attitudes towards segregation are reflected in the actions of both segments of the town, and unlikely heroes emerge. Numerous historical details and snippets of then-current political thought are smoothly integrated into the story. The author carefully weaves strong African figures into the story, as well as those who are too tired or too afraid to be strong themselves, Such as Booker T Washington. The author also includes a few passionate, sympathetic whites who also show their strength in their support of equallity for ALL men.
What I liked most is that the author was able to give the readers a real idea of the characters' strife, without resulting to graphic and frightening events. The readers are told enough to know the situation, but the story does not become grotesque.The author, Carolyn Meyer, provides the reader with highly developed and believable characters, along with good story and plot, which gives all readers a greater understanding of the human drama in American and Texas history. White Lilacs "I loved [Grandfather Jim's] garden, and I loved him. I loved to draw the bushes and flowers abounding in that Paradise, and the careful hands that set the tender young plants in the rich brown earth of Freedomtown, dark as my skin, and nursed them as they sprang up and flourished." (Meyer 2). 12-year-old Rose Lee is the main character in this book. Rose Lee is very brave. She is thoughtful, shy, loyal, and adventurous. An aspiring artist, she draws the blooming flowers in the beautiful garden of her Grandfather Jim, whom she has a very warm relationship with. Although she is very jovial and free-spirited, she can be naïve at times, and has a very simple and unexperienced nature. Aunt Tillie Aunt Susannah Mrs. Bell Catherine Jane Emily Firth Charlie Jefferson Elvie Jefferson Mr.Bell o "In the time before we knew that we would be driven away, our lives uprooted, and our people scattered, Granfather Jim Williams spent every spare minute tending his beautiful garden in Freedomtown. 'It's the Garden of Eden, Rose Lee,' he would tell me, his crinkeled brown face shining with quiet pride. 'Right here in Freedom.' " (Meyer 1). Grandfather Jim is obviously Rose Lee's grandfather. He is the oldest, and most wisest person in Freedomtown. He is very humble, optimistic, and content with his life, and enjoys tending his beautiful garden, The Garden of Eden. His favorite flower in his garden is a white lilac, a beautiful flower that flourishes, no matter what season. He loves spending time with Rose Lee. He doesn't think of the whites as a big influencing factor in his life and will do as he's told. Climax/Turning point The Climax of White Lilacs occurs when Henry, Rose Lee's older brother, comes home one night completely scorched in hot tar and plastered with chicken feathers. This was the doing of local white boys. The boys found out that Henry, being the stubborn, obnoxious boy he was, was urging people of his kind to quit working for the whites and let the them do their own work. The white boys were irate and chased Henry, and, eventually, caught him. The boys put Henry in their car and drove him somewhere to the outskirts of Dillon. The boys stripped Henry and ridiculed him and ordered him to dance for them. Henry, maintaining the little self-respect he still had, refused. The white boys were outrageous and tied Henry to a tree. Some of the white boys left, and got back with a bucket of tar. They built a fire to melt it and smeared the hot tar all over Henry with a brush and doused him with feathers. Then, they told him to run if he didn't want to be hog-tied to a rail and carried off and dumped in some other murky depths.
This event was also the turning point of the book. This event showed that the white residents of Dillon seriously despised the blacks and wanted the present inhabitants of Freedomtown to be evicted of the land. In this point of the book, suspense peaks to a very high level and causes the relationship between the white and black residents of Dillon to severely worsen. "Staggering up the alley behind our house was a terrible figure, a man whose entire body was covered in some strange white stuff. He tottered rather than he walked, his legs locked at the knees, his arms held stiffly away from his body. He groaned. I was about to turn and run back into the house when he called out to me. 'Rose Lee!' I recognized Henry's voice. I waited, frozen, as he approached me stiff legged and stopped in front of me, swaying. His body seemed to be plastered with feathers, like some huge, horrible bird. I crept closer. I could see now that he was plastered all over with black stuff, and chicken feathers were stuck to it. Only his eyes and mouth were free of feathers." (Meyer 142). FAVORITE PART OF white lilacs My favorite part of the novel was when the black residents of Freedomtown congregated for the celebration of Juneteenth. During this celebration, the people of Freedomtown celebrated with a free-spirited, jovial nature, despite the current consternation bubbling amongst the people regarding the possible eviction of the black community in place of a park. The people forgot all of their tensions, and had a big feast to celebrate the day that the honor of their African American heritage was commemorated. During this event, it seemed that amongst this overwhelming chaos, the black residents of Freedomtown could still have a good time. Secondary Characters What Happens in The End? Ultimately, the blacks assent to the commands of the whites and are forcibly relocated to The Flats, an ugly stretch of land right outside of what was Freedomtown. Freedomtown gets torn down by the whites. A new city park is built in place, "with new flower beds and benches and playing fields." (Meyer 236). Henry is sent to Missouri by train to avoid any further conflict with white boys, like he experienced with the tarring and feathering, and to ensure the safety of his family (Henry was a person who was frowned upon in the black community). Unfortunately, Grandfather Jim becomes very sick and his situation becomes critical. He eventually dies, and his last words ask Rose Lee to take care of his precious White lilac. An overwhelming feeling of grief and loss overcomes Rose Lee, but she does as she's told and takes very good care of the white lilac.The novels ends with the following words: "Years later if you asked anybody what ever happened to Freedomtown, they didn't have the slightest idea what you were talking about. White folks claimed that they never heard of it. Black folks must have decided it was better to forget. But not all of us did." (Meyer 237). This moving tale of Rose Lee and her family's struggle in White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer "I was too excited to think about such sad things as "our last time." Delicious food crowded every corner of our kitchen. Momma had been baking all the day before, sweet potato pies and pecan pies and a yellow cake with thick chocolate icing. It was almost like Mrs. Bell's kitchen the night before at her party, but ours was a different kind of eats, not so dainty and fine but hearty food that would stick to your ribs." (Meyer 84). "The robe and the hood belonged to Mr.Tom Bell, I was sure. That meant Mr. Bell was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. That meant he was one of the dozens of men we had watched marching silently through Freedomtown to burn the cross in our church grove. He could have been the one who lit the fire. I shuddered." (Meyer 155). "It wasn't only that [Aunt Susannah] was so pretty and that her clothes looked better than almost everyone else's. It was that she carried herself like she was somebody special...I hung back, suddenly shy, not able to think of a single word to say, Imagine having a fine colored lady like this in our family!" (Meyer 74-75). " 'I have arranged to stay at the boardinghouse...No need to put you and Elvie and the children out.' I knew Momma would be shocked to hear this. In addition to her usual laundry work and all the preparations for Juneteenth, Momma had tuckered herself out cleaning our house, washing the windoes and scrubbing the floors, hanging clean curtains, and shining the glass globes on all the coal-oil lamps." " 'Come on, Rose Lee,' [Catherine Jane] said. I like your name. You sound like a flower. Come inside and I'll show you my dolls." I gave [Miss Firth] the tablet and watched as she slowly turned the pages of my drawings, studying each one...When she handed the tablet back to me, she was smiling. 'You are very talented, Rose Lee. Do you know that?'...'Ladies and gentlemen!...My name is Emily Firth, and I want to speak to you about the other side of this issue. I want to talk to you this afternoon about the rights of the Negroes in this community who have served you so faithfully and so well for so many years.' Before she could say much more, people in the audience began to call out, "Go home, Yankee!" and other things I couldn't make out." (Meyer 133). Elvie Jefferson is Rose Lee's mother. She is very kind, compassionate, thoughful, and hospitable. She can remain shockingly calm when she is under pressure, and works smoothly and swiftly, since "nothing can be done right without peace of mind." Catherine Jane is the Bell's daughter. She is a very affable and friendly character; it seems she has a very amiable disposition to begin with. She is a very smart and articulate girl. She is sick of being under her mother, Mrs. Bell's control. unlike her mother, She does not look at Rose Lee as inferior because of her race, but considers Rose Lee as her friend. Catherine Jane is very nice and generous to Rose Lee throughout the book, and is very understanding of Rose Lee's precarious situation. Charlie Jefferson is Rose Lee's father. He is a very loyal, serious, proud, and respected character. He runs a local barbershop in Freedomtown, where the customers all know him, and likewise. He is a very informational man, as he provides the latest scoop to the customers who come to get their hair trimmed. He is a very confident and slightly egoistical character who likes to take charge of family actions. Aunt Susannah is Charlie Jefferson's younger sister. She is a very bold, determined, and confident young woman who believes that she is as equal as a white and "race does not determine anything." She is an inspirational figure in Rose Lee's life, as Aunt SUsannah is a beautiful colored woman who goes to college and speaks articulately, many attributes that a black woman is not thought of to have. " 'We'll make our voices heard,' said Poppa in his growly voice. "We'll tell [the whites] it's our property, legally bought and paid for, papers to prove it." He pulled himself him straight and proud, and he gripped his scissors like a sword. 'We'll tell them we're not leaving. What can they do about it?' " 'It is not an exaggeration to say," said Dr. Thompson, 'that the future of Dillon depends on the relocation of the black community.' Every white present there clapped, and then the guests began talking among themselves. I turned to Aunt Tillie, still holding the silver baskets. 'Let 'em do without their...rolls,' Aunt Tillie growled and stalked back to the table where she was reluctantly laying out the dessert for Mrs. Bell's guests." (Meyer 64). Aunt Tillie is Grandfather Jim's daughter. She is very obstinate and stubborn, as well as hotheaded and easily angered. She has been faithfully serving Mrs. Bell for many years and wishes that the Bell's would treat her differently. She is somewhat a judgemental person. Although she might seem very rough at first glance, she is highly sensitive. Surprisingly, she also loves to sing. Mr.Bell is Mrs.Bell's husband, obviously. He is a white man who utterly despises blacks and anything to do with them, regardless of all the toiling and hard work blacks, particularly Rose Lee's family, have done for his own family. Unsprisingly, Mr.Bell is part of the Klu Klux Klan because of his profound hatred of blacks. He is perceived as a very mysterious character throughout the book. "Mrs. Bell was kind, generous, even. She often sent home Catherine Jane's old clothes for me, pretty dresses with lot of wear still left in them that Momma said I must be grateful for...But Ms. Bell was not very thoughtful." Rose Lee works for Mrs. Bell. Mrs. Bell is an egoistical, pretentious white woman who often hosts fanciful luncheons at her house. She is ultimately obsessed with materialistic desires. Although she might seem haughty, Mrs. Bell can be very kind and compassionate to Rose Lee and her family when she wants to be. Mrs. Bell, however, doesn't show her kindness in front of her other white counterparts. Emily Firth is a white lady that attends many of Mrs. Bell's extravagant luncheons. Miss Firth, however, doesn't believe in the same opinions as Mrs. Bell does. Emily Firth believes that black people are worth just as much as whites and that they should be given the same, equal rights that the whites receive. Mrs. Bell admires Rose Lee and her very special talent of drawing intricately. The concept of ...is a perpetual issue in this novel. Once again, a recurring concept in this book is... and African American rights is surely one that will never be forgotten.
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