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What is one difference between Corporal Ellis and Corporal Williams in “Breakfast in Virginia”?

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What is one difference between Corporal Ellis and Corporal Williams in “Breakfast in Virginia”?
posted Mar 15, 2018 by Taicha Manuella Vasquez

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“Breakfast in Virginia,” written by the African American author Langston Hughes, takes place in the United States during World War II, when racial segregation was both openly visible and commonly accepted. Corporal Ellis and Corporal Williams are friends and black. Corporal Ellis was born in New York whereas Corporal Williams was from south.

Here is the summary of the story -

  1. Two colored boys during the war. For the first time in his life one of them, on furlough from a Southern training camp, was coming North. His best buddy was a New York lad, also on furlough, who had invited him to visit Harlem. Being colored, they had to travel in the Jim Crow car until the Florida Express reached Washington.
  2. The train was crowded and people were standing in WHITE day coaches and in the COLORED coach—the single Jim Crow car. Corporal Ellis and Corporal Williams had, after much insistence, shared for a part of the night the seats of other kindly passengers in the coach marked COLORED. They took turns sleeping for a few hours. The rest of the time they sat on the arm of a seat or stood smoking in the vestibule. By morning they were very tired. And they were hungry.
  3. No vendors came into the Jim Crow coach with food, so Corporal Ellis suggested to his friend that they go into the diner and have breakfast. Corporal Ellis was born in New York and grew up there. He had been a star trackman with his college team, and had often eaten in diners on trips with his teammates. Corporal Williams had never eaten in a diner before, but he followed his friend. It was midmorning. The rush period was over, although the dining car was still fairly full. But, fortunately, just at the door as they entered there were three seats at a table for four persons. The sole occupant of the table was a tall, distinguished gray-haired man. A white man.
  4. As the two brownskin soldiers stood at the door waiting for the steward to seat them, the white man looked up and said, “Won’t you sit here and be my guests this morning? I have a son fighting in North Africa. Come, sit down.”
  5. “Thank you, sir,” said Corporal Ellis, “this is kind of you. I am Corporal Ellis. This is Corporal Williams.”
  6. The elderly man rose, gave his name, shook hands with the two colored soldiers, and the three of them sat down at the table. The young men faced their host. Corporal Williams was silent, but Corporal Ellis carried on the conversation as they waited for the steward to bring the menus.
  7. “How long have you been in the service, Corporal?” the white man was saying as the steward approached.
  8. Corporal Ellis could not answer this question because the steward cut in brusquely, “You boys can’t sit here.”
  9. “These men are my guests for breakfast, steward,” said the white man.
  10. “I am sorry, sir,” said the white steward, “but Negroes cannot be served now. If there’s time, we may have a fourth sitting before luncheon for them, if they want to come back.”
  11. “But these men are soldiers,” said the white man.
  12. “I am sorry, sir. We will take your order, but I cannot serve them in the state of Virginia.”
  13. The two Negro soldiers were silent. The white man rose. He looked at the steward a minute, then said, “I am embarrassed, steward, both for you and for my guests.” To the soldiers he said, “If you gentlemen will come with me to my drawing room, we will have breakfast there. Steward, I would like a waiter immediately, Room E, the third car back.”
  14. The tall, distinguished man turned and led the way out of the diner. The two soldiers followed him. They passed through the club car, through the open Pullmans, and into a coach made up entirely of compartments. The white man led them along the blue-gray corridor, stopped at the last door, and opened it.
  15. “Come in,” he said. He waited for the soldiers to enter.
  16. It was a roomy compartment with a large window and two long comfortable seats facing each other. The man indicated a place for the soldiers, who sat down together. He pressed a button.
  17. “I will have the porter bring a table,” he said. Then he went on with the conversation just as if nothing had happened. He told them of recent letters from his son overseas, and of his pride in all the men in the military services who were giving up the pleasures of civilian life to help bring an end to Hitlerism. Shortly the porter arrived with the table. Soon a waiter spread a cloth and took their order. In a little while the food was there.
  18. All this time Corporal Williams from the South had said nothing. He sat, shy and bewildered, as the Virginia landscape passed outside the train window. Then he drank his orange juice with loud gulps. But when the eggs were brought, suddenly he spoke, “This here time, sir, is the first time I ever been invited to eat with a white man. I’m from Georgia.”
  19. “I hope it won’t be the last time,” the white man replied. “Breaking bread together is the oldest symbol of human friendship.” He passed the silver tray. “Would you care for rolls or muffins, Corporal? I am sorry there is no butter this morning. I guess we’re on rations.”
  20. “I can eat without butter,” said the corporal.
  21. For the first time his eyes met those of his host. He smiled. Through the window of the speeding train, as it neared Washington, clear in the morning sunlight yet far off in the distance, they could see the dome of the Capitol. But the soldier from the Deep South was not looking out of the window. He was looking across the table at his fellow American.
  22. “I thank you for this breakfast,” said Corporal Williams.
answer Mar 15, 2018 by Salil Agrawal
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