X-Posted From Slavery ListServ  

Slavery and Mastery in the American Literary Imagination 

Date:    Fri, 7 Nov 2003 05:55:24 -0600
From:    Steve Mintz <SMintz@UH.EDU>

From: "Claus K. Meyer" <claus_k_meyer@gmx.net>

X-Post H-Women (Tue, 4 Nov 2003)

From: Paula Barnes <barnes@mail.h-net.msu.edu>

Hello all:

I've inherited a course entitled "Slavery and Mastery in the American
Literary Imagination" which I now must build.  My predecessor states
this as the overview to the course:

"You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave
was made a man."  Thus wrote the F. Douglass in 1845.  In this course
we will read the words of slaves and slave-owners, abolitionists and
the descendants of slaves.  We will explore how and the issue of
slavery found its way into American Literature and interrogate why it
still fuels the literary imagination of American writers.  We will try
to better understand how language is used to make slaves of men and
women or to make women and men of slaves.  We should emerge with a
better understanding of the central role that questions of race have
played in the development of American Literature.

The texts previously used include:

Equiano's Narrative
Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin
Melville's Benito Cereno
Douglass' Narrative
Craft's Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom
Jacob's Incidents
Morrison's Beloved
C. Phillip's Cambridge
Johnson's Middle Passage
Brown's Clotel

I would like to use other texts such as those dealing with the slavery
of Native Americans as well as those texts which deal with slavery as
concept rather than historical fact only.  Please send along any
suggestions of both literary and critical works.

I am also thinking of using Gayl Jone's Corregidora and T. Morrison's
Playing in the Dark.

I look forward to your thoughts!

Alena Hairston
Professor of English
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, CA


From: Paula Barnes <barnes@mail.h-net.msu.edu> (Tue, 4 Nov 2003)

I would highly recommend you take a look at Linda Williams" excellent
study _Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black and White from Uncle
Tom to O.J. Simpson_.  I don't know if you would want to use the
entire book, but it traces the influence, meaning and metamorphosis of
Uncle Tom in the national imagination.  I think it's a wonderful book.


Alecia P. Long, Ph.D.
Historian and Writer
Louisiana State Museum


From: "Leigh Fought" <lfought@iupui.edu> (Tue, 4 Nov 2003)

Dr. Hairston

For slavery as a concept, try looking at the work of Louisa S. McCord,
a South Carolina slaveholder who wrote essays on the subject - one of
the few, if only, women to do so. They are collected in a volume
edited by Richard Lounsbury. For background on her life, Elizabeth
Fox-Genovese devotes a chapter to her in "Within the Plantation
Household" and there is a biography of her out from University of
Missouri Press. But for the class, look into the essays. She was
excellent at synthesizing the political, economic, religious, and
anthropological arguments of her time into a coherent philosophy for a
society based not simply on slave labor, but on a heirarchy whereby
the lower classes are both enslaved and of a biologically and
historically inferior race (in her opionion, of course).

Douglass's speeches are another place to look for the ideology of
anti-slavery. In speaking to the masses, he of course draws on his
experience, but he also made intellectual arguments concerning race,
heirarchy, and various tools of oppression. The speeches were edited
in five volumes by John Blassingame throughout the 1980s.  You will
want to look at vols. 1 and 2, especially some of the speeches he made
in England and Ireland during 1847-48.

Leigh Fought
Associate Editor
Frederick Douglass Papers


From: Rosalyn Baxandall <ROSYBAX@aol.com> (Tue, 04 Nov 2003)

Try Paul Lauters Norton Anthology of American Literature. There are
many relevant selections.

Professor Rosalyn Baxandall
Chair American Studies/Media and Communications
State University of New York at Old Westbury
Marisa Chappell, Ph.D.
Temporary Assistant Professor and Franklin Fellow
History Department
University of Georgia


From: Lori Askeland <laskeland@wittenberg.edu> (Tue, 04 Nov 2003)

I'm interested in the title of this course you inherited--at first I
was taken aback by the term "mastery" but I'm definitely intrigued.
Will the course explore the pedagogical implications of "mastery"?
Especially the idea of "Mastering" skills, topics, versus "seeking

Frederick Douglass himself, in My Bondage and My Freedom repeats, and
exemplifies in my mind, the latter idea, saying, in context:  "To look
at the map, and observe the proximity of Eastern Shore, Maryland, to
Delaware and Pennsylvania, it may seem to the reader quite absurd, to
regard the proposed escape as a formidable undertaking. ***But to
understand some one has said a man must stand under.*** The real
distance was great enough, but the imagined distance was, to our
ignorance, even greater. Every slaveholder seeks to impress his slave
with a belief in the boundlessness of slave territory, and of his own
almost illimitable power. We all had vague and indistinct notions of
the geography of the country. "

Douglass's work is, to me, an awe-inspiring model of genuine
intellectual humility, in the best sense of the word--particularly
this revised version of his life-story. The 1845 is, in some sense, a
story of "mastering" slavery, coming out clearly "on top" as he gives
his first speech. This 1855 version is a much more chastened story,
one that emphasizes, again and again, the need for deep understanding,
which can only be acquired by a careful attention to perspective. And,
given his awareness of perspective, he models a willingness to admit
his own weaknesses, limitations, that most of us are not brave enough
to emulate.  I find that especially amazing in an era when beliefs in
the power of human beings to solve problems, or of humans having a
deep, intimate connection to a "transcendental" perspective, have any
kind of currency.  And both Douglass's culture and ours share both of
those ideological beliefs, to greater or lesser degrees.

Anyway, I guess that's something of a brief for teaching at least a
portion of the longer 1855 narrative, or somehow incorporating this
idea into the philosophy of the course, which you may have been
planning to do.

Good luck,
Lori Askeland
Assistant Professor of English
Wittenberg University
Springfield OH 45501


From: "M. R. Alston" <mra153@psu.edu> (Tue, 4 Nov 2003)

Dear Dr. Hairston:
I am not sure if your course is for undergraduates or graduate
students but from a grad student perspective, I recently finished a
seminar on race and gender in which the professor used these two texts
to talk about Black women in the time of slavery:

McLaurin, M. A. (1991). Celia, a slave: A true story. New York: Avon

Wittenstein, K., & Hine, D. C. (1981). Female slave resistance: The
economics of sex. In F. C. Steady (Ed.), The black woman
cross-culturally (pp. 289-299). Cambridge: Schenkman Publishing.

Currently, I am in a seminar on neo-slave narratives and our professor
is using Equiano, Johnson's Middle Passage and Beloved alongside
Jones'Corrigedora, David Walker's Appeal, Octavia Butler's Kindred,
Sherley Anne Williams' Dessa Rose, and Ishmael Reed's Flight to Canada
just to name a few!  As a student I really responded to the texts I
mention here, particularly Reed's satire in Flight to Canada.

Lastly, I noted in the statement of your colleague that the voices of
abolitionists are also included.  If you are moving in that direction,
I would also recommend the work of Jacqueline Bacon who focuses
particularly on how African American men and women as well as White
women abolitionists conceptualized slavery in their public discourse.

Bacon, J. (1999). Taking liberty, taking literacy: Signifying in the
rhetoric of african american abolitionists. Southern Communication
Journal, 64, 271-287.

Bacon, J. (2002). The humblest may stand forth: Rhetoric, empowerment,
and abolition. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

I hope these ideas are useful!


Monika R. Alston, MA
316 Sparks Building
Dept. of Communication Arts and Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802


From: Candace Broughton <CBroughton@cattlv.wnyric.org> (Wed, 5 Nov

Perhaps "Proud Shoes" by Paule Marshall would help to fill the gap
about the often close relationship between Native Americans and
African-Americans in the 19th century. Another title that may not be
as well known as some others on your list is Celia, a Slave. The is
short but does a fantastic job of contextualizing this woman's life in
Missouri during the 1850s and the ways in which she became a pawn in
the struggle between Free States and "Bloody Kanas."

Speaking of borders, "Modern Medea" is the "back story" to Morrison's
"Beloved."  This shows what life in Cincinnati was like in the same
period and the literal tug of war that went on over Margaret Garner
and her family.

I see you have Caryll Phillips's "Cambridge" on your list. Good

Candace Broughton


From: "Elaine S. Caldbeck" <ecaldbeck@yahoo.com> (Wed, 5 Nov 2003)

Slight correction:

Proud Shoes is by Pauli Murray - a different author -Both of Murray's
memoirs, _Proud Shoes_ and _Song in a Weary Throat_, as well as her
book of poetry _Dark Testament_ (including an epic poem on Black
History), or her Yale Law Dissertation _Roots of the Racial Crisis:
Prologue to Policy_ give strong sophisticated interpretations of the
horrors and ambiguities and being some of both (Murray's
great-grandfather was the master . . . her grandmother treated as both
slave and part of the family . . .) as well as addressing struggles to
change places or hold together both . . .

Elaine Caldbeck
Garrrett-Evangelical & Seabury-Western Theological Seimnaries


From: mattinasenecal@comcast.net (Wed, 5 Nov 2003)

I would suggest "Property, A Novel" by Valerie Martin, published 2003
by Doubleday. This short novel is told from the prespective of a
plantation owner's wife. It is haunting.

Anne Mattina
Stonehill College