Monday, January 21, 2008

Studying Slave Narratives

Since my academic focus is beginning to narrow down to 19th century African American Literature, it is impossible to avoid reading some of the many slave narratives which often document relationships between masters and slaves with amazing clarity. As a citizen of the 21st century, it is sometimes frustrating to witness these affiliations, from the safety and comfort of my livingroom, knowing and believing slavery to be only a cruel and injust system inflicted upon people just like me, for profit and sport, to the benefit of others. It is bewildering while reading these narratives when some of the individuals, in spite of the cruelty they have been subjected to, still find that they feel much affection for their former masters. In the narrative Behind the Scenes or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, Elizabeth Keckley, former dressmaker to Mary Lincoln remarked,
"how warm is the attachment between master and slave."
I could understand the attactment a master would have, as a slave performed those duties that I wish I had someone to do for me at times. But, a slaves' attachment to a master? I don't quite get it, nor do I think I ever will. Upon a long awaited visit to her former master after the Civil War, Keckley goes on to say,
"Could my friends of the North have seen that meeting, they would never have doubted again that the mistress had any affection for her former slave."
In spite of my own mistrust (well founded, I think), still there is something for us all to learn in these narratives which often bring to the forefront the human interest aspects of slavery.

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