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sara.gladwin's picture

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.

“Floyd made the horn stutter, then played it smooth. It keened and wailed. It asked the people what their troubles were and blew them back to them. Floyd got out of the way and let his horn carry him out to the edges of himself. There wasn’t anything that horn couldn’t say.” (40).


Does it seem significant that Hattie’s children so far have headed back to the South- a place that she insisted she would never go back to? What is the implication of the names Philadelphia and Jubilee… they are allegories… do their deaths actually foreshadow a return to the south?


“Negroes skirted the white people on the sidewalk; one man nearly fell into the gutter as he hopped off the curb to avoid colliding with a white woman who was walking toward him. The town seemed to be comprised of equal numbers of each race. In Philadelphia, Six rarely saw white people aside form the teachers at his school. At home they thought of white people as a vague but powerful entity- like the forces that control the weather, that capable of destruction, that hidden from view.

            The Negroes and whites in the town knew one another. For all of the shucking and ducking, they greeted each other frequently, often by name. There wa something almost intimate in their knowledge of one another, and it was this intimacy that disturbed Six most. These people had probably known each other all  their lives, and still one had the power to demand that the other step into the gutter and that the other was cowed enough to do it.” (71)


“A mile or so down they passed a Negro woman driving a mule with a stick. She wore a man’s hat pushed down over her forehead… Her mule had a bell attached. Six recognized it as the source of the clanging he’d heard the night before, and he wondered if this same woman drove her mule day and night along these roads, never coming from anywhere and never having anywhere to go.” (71) …. Is this a Harriet Tubman reference?


pg 72- Six is disgusted by the group of women… he seems to hold people in disdain


“He hit him with that rock as though Avery was every bad thing that ever was. He beat him like he was the scalding water that had burned him, as though he was every pitying glance, every cruelty inflicted on him by his schoolmates. The harder Six hit Avery, the more powerful he felt. His arm came down again and again like a part of a machine. His body moved like normal boys’ bodies did; he was invincible and perfect” (83).


“He recognized that reptilian thing in Avery’s eyes as a reflection of his own ugliness” (84)


pg 89- calls him “Reverend Six” over and over again, and he becomes more like the person that everybody wants him to be… the act of sex validates him


pg 90- The Chapter is called Ruthie but does not start out with Ruthie, starts with a man named Lawrence… opens with Hattie and Ruthie leaving…


Job 5 (Hattie references Job 5:7):

“Call if you will, but who will answer you?


To which of the holy ones will you turn?


2Resentment kills a fool,


and envy slays the simple.


3I myself have seen a fool taking root,


but suddenly his house was cursed.


4His children are far from safety,


crushed in court without a defender.


5The hungry consume his harvest,


taking it even from among thorns,


and the thirsty pant after his wealth.


6For hardship does not spring from the soil,


nor does trouble sprout from the ground.


7Yet man is born to trouble


as surely as sparks fly upward.


8“But if I were you, I would appeal to God;


I would lay my cause before him.


9He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,


miracles that cannot be counted.


10He provides rain for the earth;


he sends water on the countryside.


11The lowly he sets on high,


and those who mourn are lifted to safety.


12He thwarts the plans of the crafty,


so that their hands achieve no success.


13He catches the wise in their craftiness,


and the schemes of the wily are swept away.


14Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;


at noon they grope as in the night.


15He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;


he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.


16So the poor have hope,


and injustice shuts its mouth.


17“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;


so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.a


18For he wounds, but he also binds up;


he injures, but his hands also heal.


19From six calamities he will rescue you;


in seven no harm will touch you.


20In famine he will deliver you from death,


and in battle from the stroke of the sword.


21You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,


and need not fear when destruction comes.


22You will laugh at destruction and famine,


and need not fear the wild animals.


23For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,


and the wild animals will be at peace with you.


24You will know that your tent is secure;


you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.


25You will know that your children will be many,


and your descendants like the grass of the earth.


26You will come to the grave in full vigor,


like sheaves gathered in season.


27“We have examined this, and it is true.


So hear it and apply it to yourself.”




“There were all kinds of ways to be responsible” (97)


“As if August didn’t know these children were liable to kill themselves with their mama gone.” (102)

reminds me of Jones question- in what ways do we all kill our children?




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