I entered my room and closed the door. I sat on the dresser stool. I felt strange and hollow, unable to cry, unable to feel anything but an empty, extinguished place in the pit of my stomach. The knock at my door moments later was light, and thinking it was Handful, I gathered the last crumbs of my energy and called out, "...I have no need of you." Mother entered, swaying with her weight. "I took no joy in seeing your hopes quashed," she said. "Your father and brothers were cruel, but I believe their mockery was in equal proportion to their astonishment. A lawyer, Sarah? The idea is so outlandish I feel I have failed you bitterly." She placed her palm on the side of her belly and closed her eyes as if warding off the thrust of an elbow or foot. The gentleness in her voice, her very presence in my room revealed how distressed she was for me, and yet she seemed to suggest their unkindness was justified. "Your father believes you are an anomalous girl with your craving for books and your aspirations, but he's wrong." I looked at her with surprise. The hauteur had left her. There was a lament in her I'd never seen before. "Every girl comes into the world with varying degrees of ambition," she said, "even if it's only the hope of not belonging body and soul to her husband. I was a girl once, believe it or not." She seemed a stranger, a woman without all the wounds and armature the years bring, but then she went on, and it was Mother again. ‘The truth,' she said, "is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to being broken like a horse." She bent and put her arms around me. "Sarah, darling, you've fought harder than I imagined, but you must give yourself over to your duty and your fate and make whatever happiness you can."

Oprah's note:
This passage where Sarah realizes she's never going to be permitted to become a lawyer was striking on many levels. Her mother delivers harsh words gently. It was striking to me how quickly we've forgotten how far we've come as women. Even white women were slaves, they just didn't know it. Women had no rights. You couldn't own property. You were dependent on your father or on your husband for everything. There were so many things you couldn't be—in essence, you were a slave. A slave to society.

Since that day a year past, I'd got myself a friend in Miss Sarah and found out how to read and write, but it'd been a heartless road like mauma said, and I didn't know what would come of us. We might stay here the rest of our lives with the sky slammed shut, but Mauma had found the part of herself that refused to bow and scrape, and once you find that, you got trouble breathing on your neck.

Oprah's note:
I love this—we as readers get to witness the seeds of rebellion growing inside Hetty. This passage reminded me of Victor Frankel's A Man's Search For Meaning—it means your life has meaning.

Part Two

February 1811-December 1812

I'd entered society two years ago, at sixteen, thrust into the lavish round of balls, teas, musical salons, horseraces, and picnics, which, according to Mother, meant the dazzling doors of Charleston had flung open and female life could begin in earnest. In other words, I could take up the business of procuring a husband. How highborn and moneyed this husband turned out to be would depend entirely on the allure of my face, the delicacy of my physique, the skill of my seamstress, and the charisma of my tête-à-tête. Notwithstanding my seamstress, I arrived at the glittery entrance like a lamb to slaughter.

Oprah's note:
I love the parallel narrative being built here, of slave life versus southern belle society.

My aspiration to become a jurist had been laid to rest in the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment.

Oprah's note:
That is perfectly put. Again, this is a reminder that not that long ago, women couldn't aspire to most of the things they do today. They were slaves to their family's expectations, to society's rules.

Next: The unexpected lesson of seeking joy


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