A Place at the Table Summary & Study Guide

Susan Rebecca White
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A Place at the Table Summary & Study Guide Description

A Place at the Table Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White.

"A Place at the Table" by Susan Rebecca White, spans many generations, beginning in 1929 North Carolina. The place is called Emancipation and is a small town founded and run entirely by former slaves. One of the founding members is Granddaddy Stone. He and his wife, his daughter, and his daughter's two children live together on a farm where they raise hogs.

James and Alice Stone are a little more than a year apart in age, but they are very close. James, the older of the two, is often instigating games and adventures. One game is where they would place the flats of their feet together while they were sitting on the floor. Then, Alice would write a word on a chalk board, and her brother would draw a picture of the word on his chalk board. This type of telepathy is something that they keep hidden from the adults in their lives, who don't understand it.

When in the woods James and Alice come across a young African American boy who has been lynched. They take the boy's body down after the hunters leave, and then run home to tell their grandfather. He warns them to not become involved. This doesn't sit well with James. A few years later, Grandfather has to send James away to live with relatives in New York because James continues to challenge the dual standards between whites and blacks in the South. At the time that he leaves, Alice wonders how it is that James' skin is so light. In certain angles and in certain light, he could pass for white, she thinks.

The timeline jumps to the mid to late seventies, in Decatur, Georgia. The focus is on a family, whose last name is Banks. The father, a pastor in a local Baptist church, his wife, Edie, a homemaker, and their three children, Troy, Hunter, and Bobby. Troy is the studious child, while Hunter is the athlete. Bobby, however, is shown to be more sensitive and effeminate. He is clearly his mother's favorite child.

Hunter, resenting his brother and the attention that he gets, often takes the opportunity to pick on him. Once, after returning home from MeeMaw's after a weekend sleepover, Bobby brings back frosted cupcakes. The frosting is pink and Hunter calls Bobby a sissy for the span of a week. A few years later, the torture has escalated and Hunter is now teasing him at school, spreading rumors about him, and sticking notes with the word "FAG" on it in Bobby's books. To make him stop, Bobby captures some bees and puts them in a jar, which he threatens to loose in the house if Hunter doesn't stop. Hunter is deathly allergic to bees, so he readily agrees. But it isn't over.

Hunter takes the opportunity many months later to get his revenge. On the day of their mother's grand luncheon, where she will be hosting a celebrity homemaker, Hunter hides his mother's undergarments in Bobby's drawers, along with a pornographic picture of a naked man. Hunter makes sure that their mother finds them. Bobby's heart is broken when he hears his mother agree with Hunter that he is damaged and sick in the head.

After this incident, Bobby's mother is distant and cold toward him. Bobby starts spending most of his time in the woods. While in high school he joins the track team and meets Pete. He and Pete declare their love for one another one night at Bobby's house, and they sneak into Bobby's room to have sex. Bobby's father and mother catch them in the act and threaten to send Bobby to military school. Horrified, he runs to MeeMaw's, who takes him in so that he can finish out the rest of his high school career.

MeeMaw gives him money to start his life over upon graduation from high school. She urges him to go to New York where he might find people who are like him and will accept him for who he is. Bobby leaves but shortly afterward comes home for MeeMaw's funeral. He never goes home again after that.

In New York, Bobby begins working for Gus Andres at the Cafe Andres. It's co-owner, Alice Stone, had written a cookbook and it is from this that most of the recipes are pulled. Alice, Bobby is told, has long since left the restaurant business and gone to raise organic vegetables with her husband. Bobby is introduced to Sebastian, another gay man. Sebastian is a producer of Broadway plays. Sebastian's family accepts their son's life choice, and is welcoming to Bobby. Bobby can't help feeling despondent about his own family's lack of support. In Sebastian he finds a soul mate and someone to share his life with. Sebastian contracts AIDS several years later and dies, leaving Bobby heartbroken and depressed.

Walking along the sidewalk one winter he hears sounds from a Catholic Church. He goes in and takes a seat. Then, when communion is offered, he goes forward to partake, but the priest, who is on oxygen, refuses to give him communion because he is gay and not a Catholic. Humiliated and hurt, Bobby runs from the church. On his way home he runs into Alice who makes him agree to come to her apartment to help her cook. Honored at the offer, Bobby agrees. She makes him feel better about the incident at the church.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Amelia, the niece of Alice Stones' editor (Kate) is having a life crisis of her own. Her husband of 20 years is unhappy in their marriage. He is verbally abusive and Amelia simply takes it, trying to just calm him down. It doesn't work. They sleep apart, and then Amelia learns that Cam, her husband, has been having an affair with a younger, prettier woman. She is devastated and calls her Aunt Kate, who advises her to leave Cam immediately. Amelia wants to think about it and not act rashly.

Amelia has her decision made for her when Cam comes back to the house and tells her that Parrin, his mistress, is pregnant with his child. Amelia signs the papers, then moves to New York to live with Kate and work for her publishing company. Her Aunt gives her the task of working with an amazing young chef named Bobby Banks. Bobby and Amelia work together with Alice on taste testing the recipes. They all get to know one another.

It is while Amelia is at Alice's home that she begins looking at photo albums and sees a picture of her father as a young boy....as a young African American boy. She calls her father up and he confesses that he is of mixed heritage, as is she. Amelia is upset that he never said anything at all. He tries to explain that things were different during the time in which he grew up, but Amelia won't hear of it. She tells Alice, and Alice's reaction is worse than her father's. She says that her brother died and won't discuss it further. She throws Amelia out of the house for bringing it up.

A week or so later, Alice asks Amelia to come back to the apartment. She apologizes and tells Amelia the story of her brother and how she'd come looking for him when she was a young woman. She found him but he'd rejected her on the street because he looked white and she was decidedly black. It had been so hurtful she'd decided he was dead to her. However, she realizes that it was unfair to have treated Amelia the way that she had. She acknowledges that Amelia is her niece.

Bobby and Amelia have found a church to belong to. The priest is a reformed hippie, but still sports his ponytail. During a blessing of the animals, a proud peacock enters the church and it is when the peacock unfurls his feathers that Amelia knows that she will embrace her own new dual heritage with pride.

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