“This was, he had told them with obvious sectional pride, the finest school for Negroes anywhere in the country, north or south; in fact, it was better even than a great many schools for white children. And he had dared any Northerner to come south and after looking upon this great institution to say that the Southerner mistreated the Negro.”
Back in the 1920s, especially in the south, there was a strong sentiment against the mixing of races. This sentiment lead to institutionalized segregation in the form of Jim Crow laws. Basically, the laws allowed individuals and organizations to discriminate against minorities by keeping them separated from white southerners, and thus prevented them from receiving the same benefits available to whites. Sometimes the laws mandated this segregation, such as in the case of public transportation and public schools.
Jim Crow laws have been on the books since shortly after the end of the Reconstruction era (1863-1877). They not only sought to separate white and black southerners, but to hobble any possible government funding of black public facilities like libraries and schools. As a result, black southerners were not permitted to attend most schools and the ones that were available to them were woefully underfunded, and so the average education level of the population was quite a bit lower compared to the whites of the time. This lack of education was part of a vicious cycle in some states: black schools were underfunded, so black southerners were less educated, so very few blacks were able to pass mandatory tests for voter eligibility, so very few blacks could vote in local and state elections, and so black schools continued to be underfunded.
As a response to the chronic underfunding of public schools for black southerners and the resulting lack of education and disenfranchisement, wealthy donors began to fund private, all black schools. Naxos is an example of one of these private schools. “On her side of the door, Helga was wondering if it had ever occurred to the lean and desiccated Miss MacGooden that most of her charges had actually come from the backwoods.” This passage suggests that a majority of the children attending Naxos are from less privileged homes and are there on charity scholarships, providing further evidence that Naxos is one of these schools.
- Reese, W. (2010-01-04). History, Education, and the Schools. Springer. p. 145. ISBN 9780230104822.
“And about it all was a depressing silence, a sullenness almost, until with a horrible abruptness the waiting band blared into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The goose step began. Left, right. Left, right. Forward! March! The automatons moved.”
Here, the term “goose step” is used to describe a military style march where the legs are kept straight and swung high between steps. The implication for this passage being that Naxos is overly strict to the point of erasing personal identity and enforcing a military like atmosphere between the students and faculty.
Source: “Goose-step.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 May 2018
“Having finally turned her attention to Helga Crane, Fortune now seemed determined to smile, to make amends for her shameful neglect. One had, Helga decided, only to touch the right button, to press the right spring, in order to attract the jade’s notice.”
“Jade,” used in this way, refers to a woman who is quick to anger or very picky. It’s an old term and has mostly fallen out of use. The “jade” in this passage is Fortune, who is depicted as a woman which you can see from the way “fortune” is capitalized in the passage. A more common way to refer to the personification of fortune is Lady Luck.
Source: “Jade.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 13 May 2018.