"I Was Born": Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and

"I Was Born": Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature
Author(s): James Olney
Source: Callaloo, No. 20 (Winter, 1984), pp. 46-73
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2930678 .
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46
"I WAS BORN":
SLAVE NARRATIVES, THEIR STATUS AS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
AND AS LITERATURE*
by JamesOlney
Anyonewho setsabout readinga singleslave narrative,or even two
or threeslave narratives,
thenaturalassumptionthat
mightbe forgiven
everysuchnarrativewillbe, or oughtto be, a uniqueproduction;forso would go the unconscious argument-are not slave narratives
autobiography,and is not everyautobiographythe unique tale, uniquely told, of a unique life?If such a readershould proceed to take
up anotherhalfdozen narratives,however(and thereis a greatlot of
themfromwhichto choose thehalfdozen), a sensenot of uniqueness
samenessis almostcertainto be theresult.And
but of overwhelming
if our readercontinuesthroughtwo or threedozen more slave narratives,stillhavinghardlybegunto broachthewholebody ofmaterial
(one estimateputs the numberof extantnarrativesat over six thouof it
sand), he is sureto come away dazed by themererepetitiveness
butonly,always
all: seldomwillhe discoveranythingnew or different
moreand moreofthesame. This raisesa numberofdifficult
questions
bothforthestudentofautobiography
and thestudentofAfro-American
literature.
be so cumulativeand so invariant,
Whyshouldthenarratives
so repetitiveand so muchalike? Are the slave narrativesclassifiable
under some larger grouping (are they history or literatureor
autobiographyor polemicalwriting?and what relationshipdo these
largergroupingsbear to one another?);or do thenarrativesrepresent
in kind fromany othermode
a mutantdevelopmentreallydifferent
ofwritingthatmightinitiallyseemto relateto themas parent,as sibling,as cousin,or as someotherformalrelation?Whatnarrativemode,
do we findin the slave narratives,and
what mannerof story-telling,
whatis theplace ofmemorybothin thisparticularvarietyofnarrative
and in autobiographymoregenerally?What is therelationshipof the
slave narrativesto laternarrativemodesand laterthematiccomplexes
of Afro-American
writing?The questionsare multipleand manifold.
I proposeto come at themand to offersome tentativeanswersby first
makingsome observationsabout autobiographyand itsspecialnature
as a memorial,creativeact; thenoutliningsomeofthecommonthemes
and nearlyinvariableconventionsof slave narratives;and finallyattemptingto determinetheplace of the slave narrative1) in the spec*Thisessaywill appear in The Slave's Narrative,ed. CharlesT. Davis
and HenryLouis Gates (New York: OxfordUniv. Press, 1984).
47
trum of autobiographicalwriting,2) in the historyof American
and 3) in themakingof an Afro-American
literature,
literarytradition.
I have arguedelsewherethatthereare manydifferent
ways thatwe
can legitimately
understandthe word and the act of autobiography;
here,however,I want to restrictmyselfto a fairlyconventionaland
common-senseunderstanding
of autobiography.I will not attemptto
define autobiographybut merely to describe a certain kind of
autobiographicalperformance-notthe only kind by any means but
the one thatwill allow us to reflectmost clearlyon what goes on in
slave narratives.For presentpurposes,then,autobiographymay be
understoodas a recollective/narrative
act in which the writer,from
a certainpoint in his life-the present-, looks back over the events
of thatlifeand recountsthemin such a way as to show how thatpast
historyhas led to thispresentstate of being. Exercisingmemory,in
orderthathe may recollectand narrate,the autobiographeris not a
neutraland passive recorderbut rathera creativeand active shaper.
Recollection,or memory,in this way a most creativefaculty,goes
backwardso thatnarrative,itstwinand counterpart,
maygo forward:
memoryand narrationmove along thesame lineonlyin reversedirections.Or as in Heraclitus,theway up and theway down, theway back
and theway forward,are one and thesame. WhenI say thatmemory
is immensely
creativeI do notmeanthatitcreatesforitselfeventsthat
neveroccurred(of coursethiscan happentoo, but thatis anothermatter). What I mean insteadis thatmemorycreatesthe significanceof
eventsin discoveringthepatternintowhichthoseeventsfall.And such
a pattern,in thekind of autobiographywherememoryrules,will be
a teleologicalone bringingus, in and throughnarration,and as itwere
by an inevitableprocess,to theend of all past momentswhichis the
present.It is in the interplayof past and present,of presentmemory
over past experienceon itsway to becomingpresentbeing,
reflecting
that events are lifted out of time to be resituatednot in mere
chronologicalsequence but in patternedsignificance.
Paul Ricoeur,in a paper on "Narrativeand Hermeneutics,"makes
thepointin a slightlydifferent
way but in a way thatallows us to sort
out the place of timeand memoryboth in autobiographyin general
slave narrativein particular."Poiesis,"acand in theAfro-American
cordingto Ricoeur'sanalysis,"bothreflectsand resolvestheparadox
of time";and he continues:"It reflectsit to the extentthatthe act of
combinesinvariousproportions
two temporaldimensions,
emplotment
one chronologicaland theothernon-chronological.The firstmay be
called the episodic dimension.It characterizesthe storyas made out
ofevents.The secondis theconfigurational
dimension,thanksto which
the plot construessignificantwholes out of scatteredevents."' In
autobiographyit is memorythat,in the recollectingand retellingof
48
events,effects"emplotment";it is memorythat,shapingthepast acof thepresent,is responsiblefor"theconcordingto theconfiguration
that
"construessignificant
wholesout of scatdimension"
figurational
teredevents."It is forthisreason thatin a classic of autobiographical
forexample,memoryis notonly
likeAugustine'sConfessions,
literature
themodebutbecomestheverysubjectofthewriting.I shouldimagine,
struck
however,thatanyreaderofslave narrativesis mostimmediately
of
dominance
"the
the
almost
complete
episodic dimension,"the
by
of
total
lack
dimension,"and thevirtual
any "configurational
nearly
absence of any referenceto memoryor any sense thatmemorydoes
anythingbut make the past factsand eventsof slaveryimmediately
presentto the writerand his reader. (Thus one oftengets,"I can see
evennow .... I can stillhear. .. .," etc.) Thereis a verygood reason
forthis,butitsbeinga verygood reasondoes notaltertheconsequence
thatthe slave narrative,witha veryfewexceptions,tendsto exhibit
a highlyconventional,rigidlyfixedformthatbearsmuchthesamerelationshipto autobiographyin a fullsenseas paintingby numbersbears
to paintingas a creativeact.
I say thereis a good reason forthis,and thereis: The writerof a
slave narrativefindshimselfin an irresolvablytightbind as a result
of theveryintentionand premiseof his narrative,whichis to give a
pictureof "slaveryas it is." Thus it is thewriter'sclaim,it mustbe his
he is not fictionalizing,
and he is not
claim,thathe is not emplotting,
of
To
act
performing
any
poiesis (=shaping, making). givea truepictureof slaveryas it it reallyis, he mustmaintainthathe exercisesa
clear-glass,neutralmemorythatis neithercreativenorfaulty-indeed,
if it were creativeit would be eo ipso faultyfor"creative"would be
understoodby skepticalreadersas a synonymfor"lying."Thus the
ex-slavenarratoris debarredfromuse of a memorythatwould make
anythingof his narrativebeyond or otherthan the purely,merely
episodic,and he is deniedaccess, by theverynatureand intentof his
dimensionof narrative.
venture,to the configurational
Of the kind of memorycentralto the act of autobiographyas I
describedit earlier,ErnstCassirerhas written:"Symbolicmemoryis
theprocessby whichman notonlyrepeatshispast experiencebut also
thisexperience.Imaginationbecomesa necessaryelement
reconstructs
oftruerecollection."
In thatword"imagination,"
however,liesthejoker
foran ex-slavewho would writethe narrativeof his lifein slavery.
Whatwe findAugustinedoingin Book X of theConfessions-offering
up a disquisitionon memorythatmakes both memoryitselfand the
narrativethatit surroundsfullysymbolic-would be inconceivablein
a slave narrative.Of courseex-slavesdo exercisememoryin theirnarratives,but theynevertalk about it as Augustinedoes, as Rousseau
does, as Wordsworthdoes, as Thoreau does, as HenryJamesdoes, as
49
a hundredotherautobiographers(not to say novelistslikeProust)do.
Ex-slavescannot talk about it because of the premisesaccordingto
which theywrite,one of those premisesbeing that thereis nothing
doubtfulor mysteriousabout memory:on thecontrary,it is assumed
to be a clear, unfailingrecordof eventssharp and distinctthatneed
intodescriptivelanguageto become the sequenonly be transformed
tialnarrativeof a lifein slavery.In thesame way, theex-slavewriting
his narrativecannotaffordto put thepresentin conjunctionwiththe
past (again withveryrarebut significant
exceptionsto be mentioned
later)forfearthatin so doinghe will appear, fromthepresent,to be
and falsifying
thepast. As a result,theslave
reshapingand so distorting
narrativeis most oftena non-memorialdescriptionfittedto a preformedmold,a moldwithregulardepressionshereand equallyregular
scenes,turnsofphrase,
prominences
there-virtually
obligatoryfigures,
and
authentications-that
over
fromnarrativeto
observances,
carry
narrativeand give to themas a group the species characterthatwe
designateby the phrase "slave narrative."
What is thisspecies characterby whichwe may recognizea slave
narrative?
The mostobviousdistinguishing
markis thatitis an extrememixed
ly
productiontypicallyincludingany or all of the following:
an engravedportraitor photographof the subject of the narrative;
or postfixed;poetic
testimonials,
authenticating
prefixed
epigraphs,snatchesofpoetryin thetext,poems appended;illustrations
before,in the
middleof, or afterthenarrativeitself;2interruptions
of thenarrative
properby way of declamatoryaddressesto the readerand passages
thatas to stylemightwell come froman adventurestory,a romance,
or a novel of sentiment;a bewilderingvarietyof documents-letters
to and fromthe narrator,bills of sale, newspaperclippings,notices
of slave auctions and of escaped slaves, certificates
of marriage,of
manumission,of birthand death, wills, extractsfromlegal codesthatappear beforethetext,in the textitself,in footnotes,and in appendices;and sermonsand anti-slavery
speechesand essaystackedon
at theend to demonstratepost-narrative
activitiesof thenarrator.In
out
the
mixed
of slave narrativesone imnature
pointing
extremely
has
to
how
mixed
and impure classic
mediately
acknowledge
are
or
be
can
also.
The
last
three
books
ofAugustine's
autobiographies
for
in
are
a
different
mode
from
therestof the
Confessions, example,
volume, and Rousseau's Confessions,which begins as a novelistic
romanceand ends in a paranoid shambles,can hardlybe considered
modallyconsistentand all of a piece. Or ifmentionis made of thelettersprefatory
and appendedto slavenarratives,
thenone thinksquickly
of the lettersat the divide of Franklin'sAutobiography,whichhave
muchthesameextra-textual
existenceas lettersat oppositeendsofslave
narratives.But all thissaid, we mustrecognizethatthenarrativelet-
50
as theFranklin
tersor theappendedsermonshaven'tthesame intention
moreimportant,
lettersor Augustine'sexegesisofGenesis;and further,
elementsin slave narratives
all themixed,heterogeneous,
heterogeneric
come to be so regular,so constant,so indispensableto themode that
theyfinallyestablisha setofconventions-a seriesof observancesthat
become virtuallyde riguer-for slave narrativesunto themselves.
The conventionsfor slave narrativeswere so early and so firmly
establishedthatone can imaginea sortof masteroutlinedrawnfrom
thegreatnarrativesand guidingthelesserones. Such an outlinewould
look somethinglike this:
A. An engravedportrait,signedby the narrator.
B. A titlepage thatincludestheclaim,as an integralpartof thetifroma statetle,"Written
by Himself"(or someclosevariant:"Written
mentof FactsMade by Himself";or "Writtenby a Friend,as Related
to Him by BrotherJones";etc.)
C. A handfulof testimonialsand/or one or more prefacesor introductions
writteneitherby a whiteabolitionistfriendofthenarrator
(WilliamLloyd Garrison,WendellPhillips)or by a whiteamanuenforthetext(JohnGreenleafWhitsis/editor/author
actuallyresponsible
Alexis
David
Louis
Wilson,
tier,
Chamerovzow),in thecourseofwhich
is
the
reader
told
that
the
narrativeis a "plain, unvarnished
preface
that
"has
set
down
inmalice,nothingexaggerated,
tale"and
been
naught
drawn
from
the
nothing
imagination"-indeed,thetale, it is claimed,
of
the
horrors
understates
slavery.
D. A poetic epigraph,by preferencefromWilliam Cowper.
E. The actual narrative:
1. a firstsentencebeginning,"I was born ... ," thenspecifying
a
but
not
a
of
date
birth;
place
2. a sketchyaccount of parentage,,
ofteninvolvinga whitefather;
3. descriptionof a cruelmaster,mistress,
or overseer,detailsoffirst
observedwhippingand numeroussubsequentwhippings,withwomen
veryfrequentlythe victims;
4. an account of one extraordinarily
strong,hardworkingslaveoften"pureAfrican"-who, because thereis no reason forit, refuses
to be whipped;
5. recordof thebarriersraised againstslave literacyand the overencounteredin learningto read and write;
whelmingdifficulties
6. descriptionof a "Christian"slaveholder(oftenof one suchdying
in terror)and the accompanyingclaim that "Christian"slaveholders
are invariablyworse than those professingno religion;
7. descriptionof theamountsand kindsof food and clothinggiven
to slaves, the work requiredof them,the patternof a day, a week,
a year;
51
8. account of a slave auction, of familiesbeing separated and
mothersclingingto theirchildrenas theyare
destroyed,of distraught
tornfromthem,of slave cofflesbeing drivenSouth;
9. descriptionof patrols,of failedattempt(s)to escape, of pursuit
by men and dogs;
10. descriptionof successfulattempt(s)to escape, lyingby during
the day, travellingby nightguidedby theNorthStar, receptionin a
freestate by Quakers who offera lavish breakfastand much genial
thee/thouconversation;
one suggestedby a white
11. takingof a new last name (frequently
as a freeman,butretenabolitionist)to accordwithnew social identity
tion of firstname as a mark of continuityof individualidentity;
12. reflectionson slavery.
materialF. An appendixor appendicescomposedof documentary
billsof sale, detailsof purchasefromslavery,newspaperitems-, furon slavery,sermons,anti-slavery
therreflections
speeches,poems,appeals to the readerforfundsand moral supportin thebattleagainst
slavery.
Aboutthis'MasterPlan forSlave Narratives"(theironyofthephrastwo observations
ing being neitherunintentionalnor insignificant)
shouldbe made: First,thatit not onlydescribesratherloosely a great
butthatitalso describesquitecloselythegreatest
manylessernarratives
of themall, Narrativeof theLifeofFrederickDouglass, An American
whichparadoxicallytranscendstheslave
Slave, Writtenby Himself,3
narrativemode while being at the same time its fullest,most exact
Second, thatwhat is beingrecountedin thenarratives
representative;
of slavery,almostnever
is nearlyalways therealitiesof theinstitution
theintellectual,
emotional,moralgrowthofthenarrator(here,as often,
Douglass succeedsin beingan exceptionwithoutceasingto be thebest
of describingslavery,but
example:he goes beyondthesingleintention
he also describesit moreexactlyand moreconvincinglythananyone
else). The lives of thenarrativesare never,or almostnever,therefor
and fortheirown intrinsic,
butnearlyalways
themselves
uniqueinterest
in theircapacityas illustrations
of what slaveryis reallylike. Thus in
one sense thenarrativelives of theex-slaveswere as muchpossessed
and used by the abolitionistsas their actual lives had been by
slaveholders.This is why JohnBrown's storyis titledSlave Life in
and
Georgia and only subtitled"A Narrativeof the Life,Sufferings,
Escape of JohnBrown,A FugitiveSlave," and it is why CharlesBall's
story (which reads like historicalfictionbased on very extensive
research)is called Slaveryin theUnitedStates,withthesomewhatextendedsubtitle"A NarrativeoftheLifeand AdventuresofCharlesBall,
A Black Man, who livedfortyyearsin Maryland,SouthCarolina and
Georgia, as a slave, undervarious masters,and was one year in the
52
navywithCommodoreBarney,duringthelatewar. Containingan account of the mannersand usages of the plantersand slaveholdersof
theSouth-a descriptionof theconditionand treatment
of theslaves,
withobservationsupon thestateofmoralsamongstthecottonplanters,
ofa fugitive
and theperilsand sufferings
slave,who twiceescapedfrom
the cottoncountry."The centralfocus of thesetwo, as of nearlyall
and an externalreality,rather
thenarratives,is slavery,an institution
and subthana particularand individuallifeas it is knowninternally
This
means
that
unlike
in
the
narratives
autobiography general
jectively.
are all trainedon one and the same objective reality,they have a
coherentand definedaudience,theyhave behindthemand guidingthem
an organizedgroup of "sponsors,"and they are possessed of very
specificmotives,intentions,and uses understoodby narrators,sponsors,and audiencealike: to revealthetruthof slaveryand so to bring
about its abolition.How, then,could the narrativesbe anythingbut
verymuch like one another?
Severalof theconventionsof slave-narrative
writingestablishedby
of
thistriangular
relationship narrator,audience,and sponsorsand the
that
dictates
logic
developmentof thoseconventionswillbear and will
reward closer scrutiny.The conventionsI have in mind are both
thematicand formaland theytendto turnup as oftenin theparapherthenarrativesas in thenarrativesthemselves.I have
nalia surrounding
on theextra-textual
remarked
lettersso commonlyassociated
already
withslave narratives
and have suggestedthattheyhave a different
logic
about themfromthe logic thatallows or impelsFranklinto include
similarlyalien documentsin his autobiography;thesame is trueof the
to be foundas
signedengravedportraitsor photographsso frequently
in
The
the
slave
narratives.
and
frontispieces
signature(which
portrait
one mightwell find in other nineteenth-century
autobiographical
documentsbut withdifferent
motivation),like theprefatoryand apthe
titular
"Written
tag
pendedletters,
by Himself,"and thestandard
"I
was
are
intended
to
attestto the real existenceof
born,"
opening
a narrator,thesensebeingthatthestatusof thenarrativewill be continuallycalled intodoubt,so itcannoteven begin,untilthenarrator's
realexistenceis firmly
established.Of coursetheargumentof theslave
narrativesis thattheeventsnarratedare factualand truthful
and that
all
to
is
the
but
this
a
narrator,
they reallyhappened
second-stagearguis thesimple,existentialclaim:
ment;priorto theclaimof truthfulness
"I exist."Photographs,portraits,signatures,authenticating
lettersall
make thesame claim: "This man exists."Only thencan thenarrative
begin.And how do mostof themactuallybegin?They beginwiththe
existentialclaim repeated."I was born" are the firstwords of Moses
Roper'sNarrative,and theyarelikewisethefirstwordsofthenarratives
of HenryBibb and HarrietJacobs,of HenryBox Brown4and William
53
Wells Brown,of FrederickDouglass5and JohnThompson,of Samuel
RinggoldWard and JamesW. C. Pennington,of AustinStewardand
JamesRoberts,ofWilliamGreenand WilliamGrimes,ofLevinTilmon
and PeterRandolph,of Louis Hughesand Lewis Clarke, of JohnAndrewJacksonand ThomasH. Jones,ofLewisCharltonand Noah Davis,
of JamesWilliamsand William Parkerand William and Ellen Craft
(wheretheopeningassertionis variedonlyto theextentofsaying,"My
wifeand myselfwere born").6
We can see the necessityforthisfirstand most basic assertionon
thepartof theex-slavein thecontrarysituationof an autobiographer
likeBenjaminFranklin.Whileany readerwas freeto doubtthemotives
ofFranklin's
memoir,no one could doubthisexistence,and so Franklin
beginsnot withany claimsor proofsthathe was bornand now really
existsbut withan explanationof why he has chosen to writesuch a
documentas the one in hand. Withtheex-slave,however,it was his
existenceand his identity,not his reasonsforwriting,thatwerecalled
into question: if the formercould be establishedthe latterwould be
obviousand thesamefromone narrativeto another.Franklincitesfour
motivesforwritinghisbook (to satisfydescendants'curiosity;to offer
an exampleto others;to providehimselfthepleasureofrelivingevents
in thetelling;to satisfyhis own vanity),and while one can findnarofeach ofthese
rativesby ex-slavesthatmighthave in themsomething
motives-JamesMars, for example, displays in part the firstof the
motives,Douglass in partthesecond,JosiahHenson in partthethird,
and SamuelRinggoldWard in partthefourth-thetruthis thatbehind
or representative
everyslave narrativethatis in any way characteristic
thereis the one same persistentand dominantmotivation,which is
determinedby the interplayof narrator,sponsors,and audience and
whichitselfdetermines
thenarrativein theme,content,and form.The
themeis the realityof slaveryand the necessityof abolishingit; the
contentis a seriesof eventsand descriptionsthatwill make thereader
see and feelthe realitiesof slavery;and the formis a chronological,
episodic narrativebeginningwith an assertionof existenceand surroundedby various testimonialevidencesfor thatassertion.
In thetitleand subtitleofJohnBrown'snarrativecitedearlier-Slave
and Escape ofJohn
Lifein Georgia:A Narrativeof theLife,Sufferings,
Brown,A FugitiveSlave-we see thatthethemepromisesto be treated
on two levels, as it were titularand subtitular:the social or institutional and the personalor individual.What typicallyhappens in the
actualnarratives,especiallythebestknownand mostreliableofthem,
is that the social theme,the realityof slaveryand the necessityof
on thepersonallevel to becomesubthemesof
abolishingit,trifurcates
and freedomwhich,thoughnotobviouslyand at first
literacy,identity,
lead intoone anotherin such
sightcloselyrelatedmatters,nevertheless
54
and virtually
a way thattheyend up beingaltogetherinterdependent
as thematicstrands.Here,as so often,Douglass' Narindistinguishable
rativeis at once thebestexample,theexceptionalcase, and thesupreme
achievement.The fulltitleofDouglass' book is itselfclassic: Narrative
of the Life of FrederickDouglass, An AmericanSlave, Writtenby
Himself.7There is muchmore to the phrase "writtenby himself,"of
course,thanthemerelaconic statementof a fact: it is literallya part
ofthenarrative,becomingan importantthematicelementin theretelling of the lifewhereinliteracy,identity,and a sense of freedomare
and withoutthefirst,
all acquiredsimultaneously
accordingto Douglass,
the lattertwo would neverhave been. The dual factof literacyand
identity("written"and "himself")reflectsback on theterribleironyof
the phrase in apposition, "An AmericanSlave": How can both of
these-"American"and "Slave"-be true?And thisin turncarriesus
back to thename, "FrederickDouglass," whichis writtenall around
thenarrative:in thetitle,on theengravedportrait,
and as thelastwords
of the text:
Sincerelyand earnestlyhoping that this littlebook may do
somethingtowardthrowinglighton theAmericanslave system,
and hasteningtheglad day of deliveranceto the millionsof my
brethrenin bonds-faithfullyrelyingupon the power of truth,
love, and justice,forsuccessin myhumbleefforts-andsolemnly pledgingmyselfanew to thesacredcause,--I subscribemyself,
FREDERICK DOUGLASS
"I subscribemyself"-I writemyselfdown in letters,I underwrite
my
identityand myverybeing,as indeedI have done in and all through
theforegoing
narrativethathas broughtme to thisplace, thismoment,
thisstate of being.
The abilityto utterhis name, and more significantly
to utterit in
the mysteriouscharacterson a page whereit will continueto sound
in silenceso longas readerscontinueto construethecharacters,is what
Douglass' Narrativeis about, forin thatletteredutteranceis assertion
of identityand in identityis freedom-freedomfromslavery,freedom
fromignorance,freedomfromnon-being,freedomeven fromtime.
WhenWendellPhillips,in a standardletterprefatory
to Douglass' Narthat
in
the
he
avoided
has
rative,says
knowingDouglass'
past
always
"real name and birthplace" because it is "still dangerous, in
Massachusetts,forhonestmen to tell theirnames," one understands
well enough what he means by "yourreal name" and the dangerof
tellingit-"Nobody knows my name," JamesBaldwinsays. And yet
in a veryimportantway Phillipsis profoundlywrong,forDouglass
had been sayinghis "real name" ever since escapingfromslaveryin
55
theway in whichhe wentabout creatingand assertinghis identityas
a freeman: FrederickDouglass. In theNarrativehe says his real name
not whenhe revealsthathe "was born" FrederickBaileybut whenhe
below hisportrait
beforethebeginning
and subscribes
putshissignature
himselfagain afterthe end of thenarrative.Douglass' name-changes
and self-namingare highlyrevealingat each stage in his progress:
"FrederickAugustusWashingtonBailey" by the name given him by
hismother,he was knownas "Frederick
Bailey"or simply"Fred"while
growingup; he escaped fromslaveryunderthe name "Stanley,"but
when he reachedNew York took thename "FrederickJohnson."(He
was marriedin New York underthatname-and gives a copy of the
in thetext-by theRev. J.W. C. Penningtonwho
marriagecertificate
had himselfescaped fromslaverysome tenyearsbeforeDouglass and
who would producehis own narrativesomefouryearsafterDouglass.)
Finally,in New Bedford,he foundtoo manyJohnsonsand so gave to
hishost( one ofthetoo many-Nathan Johnson)theprivilegeofnaminghim,"buttoldhimhe mustnottakefromme thenameof 'Frederick.'
I musthold on to that,to preservea senseofmyidentity."Thus a new
social identitybut a continuityof personalidentity.
In narratingthe eventsthatproducedboth change and continuity
in his life,Douglass regularlyreflectsback and forth(and herehe is
verymuchtheexception)fromthepersonwrittenabout to theperson
writing,froma narrativeof past eventsto a presentnarratorgrown
out of thoseevents.In one marvellouslyrevealingpassage describing
thecold he suffered
fromas a child,Douglass says, 'My feethave been
so crackedwiththefrost,thatthepen withwhichI am writingmight
be laid in thegashes."One mightbe inclinedto forgetthatitis a vastly
different
personwritingfromthepersonwrittenabout, but it is a very
reminderto referto thewritinginand immenselyeffective
significant
strumentas a way of realizingthe distancebetweenthe literate,articulatewriterand the illiterate,inarticulatesubject of the writing.
Douglasscouldhave said thatthecold causedlesionsin hisfeeta quarter
of an inchacross, but in choosingthe writinginstrument
held at the
I
with
moment-"the
which
am writing"-by one now
pen
present
known to the world as FrederickDouglass, he dramatizeshow far
removedhe is fromtheboy once called Fred(and other,worsenames,
of course)withcracksin his feetand withno moreuse fora pen than
forany of theothersignsand appendagesof theeducationthathe had
been deniedand thathe would finallyacquire only withthe greatest
but also withthegreatest,mosttellingsuccess,as we feelin
difficulty
thequalityof thenarrativenow flowingfromtheliteraland symbolic
and freedom,
pen he holdsin hishand. Herewe have literacy,identity,
theomnipresent
thematictrioof themostimportantslave narratives,
all conveyedin a singlestartlingimage.8
56
Thereis, however,onlyone Frederick
Douglass amongtheex-slaves
who told theirstoriesand the storyof slaveryin a singlenarrative,
and in even the best known, most highlyregarded of the other
narratives-those,forexample,by WilliamWellsBrown,CharlesBall,
HenryBibb, JosiahHenson, Solomon Northup,J.W. C. Pennington,
and Moses Roper--all theconventionsare observed-conventionsof
content,theme,form,and style-but theyremainjust that: conventionsuntransformed
and unredeemed.The firstthreeof theseconventionalaspectsof thenarrativesare, as I have alreadysuggested,pretty
betweenthenarratorhimselfand
clearlydetermined
by therelationship
thoseI have termedthesponsors(as well as theaudience) of thenarrative.When the abolitionistsinvitedan ex-slaveto tell his storyof
experiencein slaveryto an anti-slaveryconvention,and when they
subsequentlysponsoredthe appearance of thatstoryin print,10
they
well understoodby themselvesand well
had certainclearexpectations,
understoodby theex-slavetoo, about thepropercontentto be observed, theproperthemeto be developed,and theproperformto be followed. Moreover,content,theme,and formdiscoveredearly on an appropriatestyleand thatappropriatestylewas also thepersonalstyle
displayedby the sponsoringabolitionistsin the lettersand introductionstheyprovidedso generouslyforthenarratives.It is not strange,
of course,thatthestyleof an introduction
and thestyleof a narrative
shouldbe one and thesame in thosecases whereintroduction
and narrativewere writtenby the same person-Charles Stears writingintroductionand narrativeof Box Brown,forexample,or David Wilson
writingprefaceand narrativeof Solomon Northup.What is strange,
is theinstancein whichthe
perhaps,and a good deal moreinteresting,
of
the
abolitionist
introducer
carries
over into a narrativethat
style
is certified
as "Writtenby Himself,"and thislatterinstanceis notnearly so isolatedas one mightinitiallysuppose. I want to look somewhat
thatI taketo reprecloselyat threevariationson stylisticinterchange
sentmoreor less adequatelythespectrumofpossiblerelationships
betweenprefatorystyleand narrativestyle,or moregenerallybetween
sponsorand narrator:HenryBox Brown,wheretheprefaceand narrativeare bothclearlyin themannerof CharlesStearns;SolomonNorthup,where the enigmaticalprefaceand narrative,althoughnot so
both in themanclearlyas in thecase of Box Brown,are nevertheless
nerof David Wilson; and HenryBibb,wheretheintroduction
is signed by Lucius C. Matlack and theauthor'sprefaceby HenryBibb, and
wherethenarrativeis "Writtenby Himself"-but wherealso a single
author'spreface,and narrativealike.
styleis in controlofintroduction,
Box
Brown's
we are told on the title-page,was
Narrative,
Henry
WRITTEN FROM A
STATEMENT OF FACTS MADE BY HIMSELF.
WITH REMARKS UPON THE REMEDY FOR SLAVERY.
BY CHARLES STEARNS.
57
or not,theorderoftheelementsand thepuncWhetheritis intentional
tuationof thissubtitle(withfullstopsafterlinestwo and three)make
itveryunclearjustwhatis beingclaimedabout authorshipand stylistic
for the narrative.Presumablythe "remarksupon the
responsibility
for
remedy slavery"are by CharlesStearns(who was also, at 25 Cornhill,Boston,thepublisherof theNarrative),but thistitle-pagecould
wellleave a readerin doubtabout thepartyresponsibleforthestylistic
mannerof thenarration.Such doubtwill soon be dispelled,however,
ifthereaderproceedsfromCharlesStearns'"preface"to Box Brown's
"narrative"to CharlesStearns'"remarksupon theremedyforslavery."
The prefaceis a most poetic, most high-flown,most grandiloquent
perorationthat,once crankedup, carriesrightover intoand through
thenarrativeto issue in theappendedremarkswhichcome to an end
in a REPRESENTATION OF THE BOX in which Box Brown was
fromRichmondto Philadelphia.Thus fromthe preface:
transported
"Not forthepurposeof administering
to a prurientdesireto 'hearand
see some new thing,'nor to gratifyany inclinationon thepart of the
hero of thefollowingstoryto be honoredby man, is thissimpleand
touchingnarrativeof theperilsof a seekerafterthe 'boon of liberty,'
introducedto the public eye . ... ," etc.-the sentencegoes on three
timeslongerthanthisextract,describingas itproceeds"thehorridsufofone as, in a portableprison,shutoutfromthelightofheaven,
ferings
and nearly deprived of its balmy air, he pursued his fearful
journey..... " As is usual in such prefaces,we are addresseddirectly
tale,let the
by theauthor:"O reader,as you perusethisheart-rending
tearofsympathyrollfreelyfromyoureyes,and let thedeep fountains
of humanfeeling,whichGod has implantedin thebreastof everyson
and daughterof Adam, burstforthfromtheirenclosure,untila stream
on to thesurroundingworld, of so invigorating
shall flowtherefrom
and purifying
a nature,as to arousefromthe'deathofthesin'ofslavery,
and cleanse fromthe pollutionsthereof,all withwhom you may be
connected."We may notbe overwhelmedby thesenseof thissentence
but surelywe mustbe by its richrhetoricalmanner.
The narrativeitself,whichis all firstpersonand "theplain narrative
of our friend,"as the prefacesays, beginsin thismanner:
I am not about to harrowthefeelingsof myreadersby a terrificrepresentation
of the untoldhorrorsof thatfearfulsystem
ofoppression,whichforthirty-three
longyearsentwineditssnaky
foldsabout my soul, as theserpentof South Americacoils itself
around theformof its unfortunate
victim.It is not my purpose
to descenddeeplyintothedark and noisomecavernsof thehell
of slavery,and drag fromtheirfrightful
abode thoselost spirits
who haunt the souls of the poor slaves, daily and nightlywith
theirfrightful
presence,and withthefearfulsound of theirter-
58
rificinstruments
of torture;for otherpens far abler than mine
thatportionof thelabor ofan exposer
have effectually
performed
of the enormitiesof slavery.
Sufficeit to say of thispiece of finewritingthatthepen-than which
therewereothersfarabler-was heldnotby Box Brownbutby Charles
removedthanit is fromthe
Stearnsand thatitcould hardlybe further
Frederick
that
that
could have been laid in
held
Douglass,
pen
by
pen
thegashes in his feetmade by thecold. At one point in his narrative
Box Brownis made to say (afterdescribinghow his brotherwas turned away froma streamwiththeremark"We do not allow niggersto
fish"),"Nothingdaunted,however,by thisrebuff,my brotherwent
obtainto anotherplace, and was quite successfulin his undertaking,
of
tribe.""
It
be
Box
Brown's
a
the
that
finny
may
ing plentiful
supply
storywas told from"a statementof factsmade by himself,"but after
thosefactshave been dressedup in theexoticrhetoricalgarmentsprovided by Charles Stearnsthereis preciouslittleof Box Brown (other
of thebox itself)thatremainsin thenarrative.
thantherepresentation
And indeed for every fact there are pages of self-conscious,selfgratifying,
self-congratulatory
philosophizingby Charles Stearns,so
thatif thereis any lifehere at all it is the lifeof thatman expressed
in his veryown overheatedand foolishprose.12
David Wilsonis a good deal morediscreetthanCharlesStearns,and
the relationshipof prefaceto narrativein Twelve Years a Slave is
therefore
a greatdeal morequestionable,butalso moreinteresting,
than
in theNarrativeof HenryBox Brown. Wilson'sprefaceis a page and
a halflong; Northup'snarrative,witha song at theend and threeor
four appendices, is threehundredthirtypages long. In the preface
Wilsonsays, "Many of thestatements
containedin thefollowingpages
are corroboratedby abundant evidence-others rest entirelyupon
to thetruth,theeditor,
Solomon'sassertion.Thathe has adheredstrictly
at least, who has had an opportunityof detectingany contradiction
or discrepancyin his statements,is well satisfied.He has invariably
repeated the same story without deviating in the slightest
particular.... "13 Now Northup'snarrativeis not only a verylong
one butis filledwitha vast amountof circumstantial
detail,and hence
it strainsa reader'scredulitysomewhatto be told thathe "invariably
repeatedthesame storywithoutdeviatingin theslightestparticular."
Moreover,since the styleof the narrative(as I shall argue in a monotNorthup'sown, we mightwellsuspecta fillment)is demonstrably
ingin and fleshingout on thepartof-perhaps not the"onliebegetter"
butat least-the actualauthorof thenarrative.Butthisis notthemost
interesting
aspect of Wilson'sperformancein theprefacenor theone
thatwill repay closestexamination.That comes withthe conclusion
of the prefacewhich reads as follows:
59
It is believedthatthefollowingaccountof his [Northup's]experienceon Bayou Boeufpresentsa correctpictureof Slavery,
in all itslightsand shadows,as it now existsin thatlocality.Unbiased, as he conceives,by any prepossessionsor prejudices,the
only object of the editorhas been to give a faithfulhistoryof
Solomon Northup'slife,as he receivedit fromhis lips.
In theaccomplishment
of thatobject,he trustshe has succeeded,notthe
numerous
faultsof styleand of expressionit may be
withstanding
foundto contain.
To sortout, as faras possible,whatis beingassertedherewe would
do well to startwith the final sentence,which is relativelyeasy to
understand.To acknowledgefaultsin a publicationand to assume
forthemis of coursea commonplacegesturein prefaces,
responsibility
the
thoughwhy
questionof styleand expressionshould be so important in giving"a faithfulhistory"of someone's life "as . . . received . . . fromhislips" is notquiteclear; presumablythevirtuesof style
and expressionare superaddedto thefaithful
historyto giveitwhatever
it
as thesefall shortthe
merits
claim
and
insofar
to,
literary
may lay
author feels the need to acknowledgeresponsibilityand apologize.
Nevertheless,
aside,thereis no doubtabout who
puttingthisambiguity
is responsibleforwhat in thissentence,which,ifI mightreplaceproof that
nouns withnames, would read thus: "In the accomplishment
notDavid
Wilson
trusts
has
that
he
[David
succeeded,
object,
Wilson]
of
which
the
numerous
faults
of
and
withstanding
style
expression[for
it may be foundby the reader
David Wilson assumesresponsibility]
to contain."The two precedingsentences,however,are altogetherimpenetrableboth in syntaxand in the assertiontheyare presumably
designedto make. Castingthe firststatementas a passive one ("It is
believed .. .") and danglinga participlein the second ("Unbiased . . . "), so thatwe cannotknow in eithercase to whom the statementshould be attached,Wilson succeeds in obscuringentirelythe
It would take too much
authoritybeing claimed for the narrative.14
to
the
the
(one
might,however,glance
space analyze syntax, psychology
at the familiaruse of Northup'sgivenname), and the sense of these
but I would challengeanyone to diagram the second
affirmations,
sentence("Unbiased . . . ") with any assuranceat all.
As to thenarrativeto whichtheseprefatorysentencesrefer:When
we get a sentencelike this one describingNorthup'sgoing into a
swamp-"My midnightintrusionhad awakened the featheredtribes
[nearrelativesofthe'finnytribe'ofBox Brown/Charles
Steams],which
seemedto throngthemorassin hundredsof thousands,and theirgarsounds-therewas such
rulousthroatspouredforthsuchmultitudinous
a fluttering
ofwings-such sullenplungesin thewaterall aroundmethat I was affrighted
and appalled" (p. 141)-when we get such a
60
sentencewe may thinkit prettyfinewritingand awfullyliterary,but
thefinewriteris clearlyDavid WilsonratherthanSolomon Northup.
novelist
Perhapsa betterinstanceof thewhiteamanuensis/sentimental
as
received
from
Norlayinghismanneredstyleoverthefaithful
history
thup'slips is to be foundin thisdescriptionof a Christmascelebration
wherea huge meal was providedby one slaveholderforslaves from
surroundingplantations:"They seat themselvesat the rustictablethemaleson one side,thefemaleson theother.The twobetweenwhom
theremay have been an exchangeof tenderness,
invariablymanageto
sitopposite;fortheomnipresent
Cupid disdainsnot to hurlhis arrows
into the simpleheartsof slaves" (p. 215). The entirepassage should
be consultedto get the fulleffectof Wilson's stylisticextravagances
when he pulls the stops out, but any readershould be forgivenwho
declinesto believethatthislastclause, withitsreference
to "thesimple
heartsofslaves"and itsself-conscious,
invertedsyntax("disdainsnot"),
was writtenby someonewho had recentlybeen in slaveryfortwelve
years."Red,"we are toldby Wilson'sNorthup,"isdecidedlythefavorite
color amongtheenslaveddamselsof myacquaintance.Ifa redribbon
does notencircletheneck,you willbe certainto findall thehairoftheir
wooly heads tiedup withred stringsof one sortor another"(p. 214).
In the light of passages like these, David Wilson's apology for
"numerousfaultsof styleand of expression"takes on all sortsof interestingnew meaning.The rustictable, the omnipresentCupid, the
simpleheartsof slaves, and thewoollyheads ofenslaveddamsels,like
thefinnyand featheredtribes,mightcomefromany sentimental
novel
of the nineteenthcentury-one, say, by HarrietBeecherStowe; and
so it comes as no greatsurpriseto read on the dedicationpage the
following:"To HarrietBeecherStowe: Whose Name, Throughoutthe
withtheGreatReform:This Narrative,Affording
World,Is Identified
AnotherKey to UncleTom's Cabin, Is Respectfully
Dedicated." While
notsurprising,
giventhestyleof thenarrative,thisdedicationdoes littleto clarifytheauthoritythatwe are asked to discoverin and behind
the narrative,and the dedication,like the pervasivestyle,calls into
seriousquestionthestatusof Twelve Years a Slave as autobiography
and/or literature.15
ForHenryBibb'snarrativeLuciusC. Matlack suppliedan introduction in a mightypoeticvein in whichhe reflectson theparadox that
out of thehorrorsof slaveryhave come some beautifulnarrativeproductions. "Gushingfountainsof poetic thought,have startedfrom
beneaththerod ofviolence,thatwilllongcontinueto slakethefeverish
thirstofhumanityoutraged,untilswellingto a flooditshallrushwith
wastingviolenceover theill-gotten
heritageoftheoppressor.Startling
incidentsauthenticated,farexcellingfictionin theirtouchingpathos,
fromthepen ofself-emancipated
slaves,do now exhibitslaveryin such
61
revoltingaspects, as to secure the execrationsof all good men, and
becomea monumentmoreenduringthanmarble,in testimony
strong
as sacredwritagainstit."16The pictureMatlack presentsof an outraged humanitywitha feverishthirstforgushingfountainsstartedup by
therodofviolenceis a peculiarone and one thatseems,psychologically
speaking, not very healthy. At any rate, the narrativeto which
Matlack'sobservationshave immediatereference
was, as he says,from
the pen of a self-emancipated
slave (self-emancipated
several times),
withmuchtouchingpathos
and itdoes indeedcontainstartling
incidents
about them;but thereallycuriousthingabout Bibb'snarrativeis that
it displaysmuchthesame florid,sentimental,
declamatoryrhetoricas
we findin ghostwritten
or as-told-tonarrativesand also in prefaces
such as those by Charles Stearns,Louis Alexis Chamerovzow, and
LuciusMatlack himself.ConsidertheaccountBibb givesof his courtshipand marriage.Having determined
by a hundredsignsthatMalinda loved himeven as he loved her-"I could read itby heralways givof her company;by her pressinginvitationsto
ing me thepreference
visit even in oppositionto her mother'swill. I could read it in the
languageofherbrightand sparklingeye,penciledby theunchangable
fingerofnature,thatspake butcould notlie" (pp. 34-35)-Bibb decided to speak and so, as he says, "broachedthe subjectof marriage":
I said, "I neverwillgivemyheartnorhand to any girlin marsubriage,untilI firstknowhersentiments
upon theall-important
of
No
how
I
and
well
love
jects Religion
Liberty. matter
might
her,nor how greatthesacrificein carryingout theseGod-given
principles.And I here pledge myselffromthiscourse neverto
be shakenwhilea singlepulsationof my heartshall continueto
throbfor Liberty."
And did his "dear girl"funkthe challengethusproposed by Bibb?
Far fromit-if anythingshe proved more high-mindedthan Bibb
himself.
Withthisidea Malinda appeared to be well pleased, and with
a smileshe looked me in the face and said, "I have long entertained the same views, and this has been one of the greatest
reasonswhyI have notfeltinclinedto enterthemarriedstatewhile
a slave; I have always felta desireto be free;I have longcherished a hope thatI shouldyetbe free,eitherby purchaseor running
away. In regardto thesubjectof Religion,I have always feltthat
itwas a good thing,and somethingthatI would seekforat some
futureperiod."
It is all to thegood, of course,thatno one has everspokenor could
everspeak as Bibb and hisbelovedare said to have done-no one, that
novel of date c. 1849.17Though actualis, outsidea bad, sentimental
written
the
narrative,forstyleand tone,mightas wellhave
ly
by Bibb,
62
been the productof thepen of Lucius Matlack. But the combination
of the sentimentalrhetoricof whitefictionand whitepreface-writing
witha realisticpresentationof thefactsof slavery,all paradingunder
the banner of an authentic-and authenticated-personalnarrative,
producessomethingthatis neitherfishnor fowl. A textlike Bibb's is
to twoconventionalforms,theslave narrativeand thenovel
committed
of sentiment,
and caughtby both it is unable to transcendeither.Nor
thatproducedUncleTom'sCabin
is thereasonfarto seek:thesensibility
thatsponsoredtheslave
was closelyalliedto theabolitionistsensibility
narrativesand largelydeterminedthe formthey should take. The
master-slaverelationshipmightgo undergroundor it mightbe turned
insideout but it was not easily done away with.
and tellingdetail in the relationConsiderone small but recurrent
ship of whitesponsor to black narrator.JohnBrown'snarrative,we
are toldby Louis AlexisChamerovzow,the"Editor"(actuallyauthor)
of Slave Life in Georgia, is "a plain, unvarnishedtale of real Slavewritesto Austin
life";EdwinScrantom,in hisletter"recommendatory,"
Stewardofhis Twenty-TwoYearsa Slave and FortyYearsa Freeman,
"Let its plain, unvarnishedtale be sentout, and the storyof Slavery
and its abominations,again be told by one who has feltin his own
heel";thepreface
personitsscorpionlash,and theweightofitsgrinding
writer("W. M. S.") forExperienceof a Slave in South Carolina calls
it "theunvarnished,but ower truetale of JohnAndrewJackson,the
thedupe
apparently
escapedCarolinianslave";JohnGreenleafWhittier,
ofhis "ex-slave,"says of The NarrativeofJamesWilliams,"The followingpages containthesimpleand unvarnishedstoryofan AMERICAN
SLAVE"; RobertHurnardtellsus thathe was determinedto receive
and transmitSolomon Bayley'sNarrative"in his own simple,unvarnished style"; and HarrietTubman too is given the "unvarnished"
honorific
by Sarah Bradfordin herprefaceto Scenesin theLifeofHarrietTubman: "It is proposedin thislittlebook to give a plain and unvarnishedaccountofsomescenesand adventuresin thelifeofa woman
who, thoughone of earth'slowly ones, and of dark-huedskin, has
shownan amountofheroismin hercharacterrarelypossessedby those
of any stationin life."The factthatthevarnishis laid on verythickly
indeed in several of these(Brown,Jackson,and Williams,forexambut it is not theessentialpoint,whichis to
ple) is perhapsinteresting,
be found in the repeateduse of just this word-"unvarnished"-to
describeall thesetales.The OxfordEnglishDictionarywilltellus (which
we shouldhave surmisedanyway)thatOthello,anotherfigureof"darkhuedskin"butvastlyheroiccharacter,firstused theword "unvarnished"-"I will a roundunvarnish'dtale deliver/Of mywhole courseof
love"; and that,at least so faras theOED recordgoes, theword does
notturnup againuntilBurkeuseditin 1780,some175 yearslater("This
63
is a true,unvarnished,undisguisedstateof the affair").I doubt that
had an obscure
anyonewould imaginethatwhiteeditors/amanuenses
passagefromBurkein theback of theircollectivemind-or deep down
in thatmind-when theyrepeatedlyused thisword to characterizethe
narrativeof theirex-slaves.No, itwas certainlya Shakespeareanhero
evoking,and notjustany Shakespeareanhero
theywereunconsciously
but always Othello, the Noble Moor.
Various narratorsof documents"writtenby himself"apologize for
theirlack of grace or styleor writingability,and again various narratorssay that theirsare simple,factual,realisticpresentations;but
no ex-slavethatI have foundwho writeshis own storycalls it an "unvarnished"tale: the phrase is specificto whiteeditors,amanuenses,
and authenticators.
writers,
Moreover,to turnthematteraround,when
an ex-slavemakesan allusionto Shakespeare(whichis naturallya very
occurrence)to suggestsomethingabout his situationor iminfrequent
ofhischaracter,
theallusionis neverto Othello.Frederick
plysomething
Douglass, forexample,describingall theimaginedhorrorsthatmight
overtakehimand his fellowsshouldtheytryto escape, writes,"I say,
thispicturesometimesappalled us, and made us:
'ratherbear those ills we had,
Than flyto others,thatwe knew not of."'
Thus it was in the lightof Hamlet's experienceand characterthat
Douglass saw his own, not in the lightof Othello's experienceand
character.Not so WilliamLloyd Garrison,however,who says in the
prefaceto Douglass' Narrative,"I am confidentthat it is essentially
truein all its statements;thatnothinghas been set down in malice,
nothingexaggerated,nothingdrawnfromtheimagination.... "18We
can be sure that it is entirelyunconscious,this regularallusion to
ofwhite
Othello,butitsaysmuchabout thepsychologicalrelationship
patronto black narratorthattheformershouldinvariablysee thelatter not as Hamlet, not as Lear, not as Antony, or any other
Shakespeareanhero but always and only as Othello.
When you shall theseunluckydeeds relate,
Speak of themas theyare. Nothingextenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then mustyou speak
Of one thatlov'd not wiselybut too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplex'din the extreme....
The Moor, Shakespeare'sor Garrison's,was noble, certainly,but he
was also a creatureofunreliablecharacterand irrational
passion-such,
at least,seemsto have beenthelogicof theabolitionists'
attitudetoward
64
theirex-slavespeakersand narrators-and it was just as well forthe
whitesponsorto keep him,ifpossible, on a prettyshortleash. Thus
it was thattheGarrisonians-thoughnot Garrisonhimself-wereopposed to the idea (and let theiroppositionbe known) thatDouglass
and WilliamWellsBrownshouldsecurethemselves
againsttheFugitive
Slave Law by purchasingtheirfreedomfromex-masters;and because
it mightharmtheircause the Garrisoniansattemptedalso to prevent
WilliamWells Brownfromdissolvinghis marriage.The reactionfrom
the Garrisoniansand fromGarrisonhimselfwhen Douglass insisted
on goinghis own way anyhowwas bothexcessiveand revealing,suggestingthatforthemtheMoor had ceased to be noble whilestill,unfortunately,
remaininga Moor. My Bondage and My Freedom,Garrisonwrote,"in its second portion,is reekingwith the virus of pertowardsWendellPhillips,myself,and theold organizasonal malignity
and basenesstowardsas true
tionistsgenerally,and fullof ingratitude
and disinterested
friendsas any man everyethad upon earth."19That
thissimplyis not trueof My Bondage and My Freedomis almostof
secondaryinterestto what the words I have italicizedreveal of Garrison'sattitudetoward his ex-slaveand the unconsciouspsychology
of betrayed,outragedproprietorship
lyingbehindit. And whenGarrisonwrote to his wifethatDouglass' conduct"has been impulsive,
inconsiderateand highlyinconsistent"and to Samuel J. May that
ofeveryprincipleofhonor,ungrateful
Douglass himselfwas "destitute
to thelast degreeand malevolentin spirit,"20
thepictureis prettyclear:
forGarrison,Douglass had becomeOthellogone wrong,Othellowith
all his dark-huedskin,his impulsivenessand passion but none of his
nobilityof heroism.
The relationship
ofsponsorto narratordid notmuchaffectDouglass'
own Narrative:he was capable of writinghis storywithoutaskingthe
Garrisonians'leave or requiringtheirguidance. But Douglass was an
man and an altogether
extraordinary
exceptionalwriter,and othernarrativesby ex-slaves,even thoseentirely"Writtenby Himself,"scarcely rise above the level of the preformed,imposedand acceptedconventional.Of thenarrativesthatCharlesNicholsjudgesto have been
writtenwithoutthehelp of an editor-those by "FrederickDouglass,
William Wells Brown, JamesW. C. Pennington,Samuel Ringgold
Ward, Austin Steward and perhaps Henry Bibb"21-none but
Douglass' has any genuineappeal in itself,apart fromthe testimony
itmightprovideabout slavery,or any realclaimto literarymerit.And
whenwe go beyond thisbare handfulof narrativesto considerthose
writtenunderimmediateabolitionistguidanceand control,we find,
as we mightwell expect,even less of individualdistinctionor distinctivenessas thenarratorsshow themselvesmore or less contentto remain slaves to a prescribed,conventional,and imposed form; or
65
perhapsit would be morepreciseto say thattheywere captiveto the
abolitionistintentionsand so the question of theirbeing contentor
otherwise
embracing
hardlyenteredin. Justas thetriangular
relationship
otherthan
sponsor,audience,and ex-slavemade ofthelattersomething
an entirelyfreecreatorin the tellingof his lifestory,so also it made
ofthenarrativeproduced(alwayskeepingtheexceptionalcase in mind)
somethingotherthanautobiographyin any fullsense and something
of thattermas
otherthanliteraturein any reasonableunderstanding
an act of creativeimagination.An autobiographyor a piece of imaginativeliteraturemay of course observecertainconventions,but it
cannot be only, merelyconventionalwithoutceasing to be satisfacand thatis thecase, I should
toryas eitherautobiographyor literature,
say, with all the slave narrativesexcept the great one by Frederick
Douglass.
But herea mostinteresting
paradox arises. While we may say that
or literature,
do notqualifyas eitherautobiography
theslave narratives
and whilewe mayargue,againstJohnBaylissand GilbertOsofskyand
others,thattheyhave no real place in AmericanLiterature(justas we
mightargue,and on thesame grounds,againstEllenMoers thatUncle
Tom's Cabin is not a greatAmericannovel), yet the undeniablefact
is thattheAfro-American
literarytraditiontakesitsstart,in themecertainlybut also oftenin contentand form,fromthe slave narratives.
RichardWright'sBlack Boy, which many readers(myselfincluded)
would take to be his supremeachievementas a creativewriter,providestheperfectcase inpoint,thougha hostof otherscould be adduced thatwouldbe nearlyas exemplary(DuBois' variousautobiographical
works; Johnson'sAutobiographyof an Ex-ColouredMan; Baldwin's
autobiographicalfictionand essays; Ellison'sInvisibleMan; Gaines'
Autobiographyof Miss JanePittman;Maya Angelou'swriting;etc.).
In effect,Wrightlooks back to slave narrativesat thesame timethat
he projectsdevelopmentsthatwould occurin Afro-American
writing
afterBlack Boy (publishedin 1945). Thematically,Black Boy reenacts
both thegeneral,objectiveportrayalof the realitiesof slaveryas an
to whatWrightcalls "The Ethicsof LivingJim
institution
(transmuted
Crow" in thelittlepiece thatlies behindBlack Boy) and also theparthatwe find
ticular,individualcomplexof literacy-identity-freedom
at the thematiccenterof all of the most importantslave narratives.
In contentand formas wellBlackBoy repeats,mutatismutandis,much
of thegeneralplan givenearlierin thisessaydescribing
thetypicalslave
after
more
or
less
narrative:Wright,liketheex-slave,
a
chronological,
Crow, includinga
episodic account of theconditionsof slavery/Jim
or near impossibilityparticularlyvivid descriptionof thedifficulty
but also theinescapablenecessity-ofattainingfullliteracy,tellshow
he escaped fromsouthernbondage, fleeingtowardwhat he imagined
66
to exercisehis
would be freedom,a new identity,and theopportunity
hard-wonliteracyin a northern,free-state
city.That he did not find
exactlywhat he expectedin Chicago and New York changesnothing
about Black Boy itself:neitherdid Douglass findeverythinghe anticipatedor desiredin theNorth,but thatpersonallyunhappyfactin
no way affectshis Narrative.Wright,impelledby a nascentsense of
freedomthatgrew withinhim in directproportionto his increasing
in thereadingofrealisticand naturalistic
fiction),
literacy(particularly
fledthe world of the South, and abandoned the identitythatworld
had imposedupon him("I was whatthewhiteSouthcalleda 'nigger"'),
in searchof anotheridentity,the identityof a writer,preciselythat
writerwe know as "RichardWright.""Fromwherein thissouthern
darknesshad I caughta sense of freedom?"22
Wrightcould discover
only one answer to his question: "It had been only through
books . . . thatI had managedto keepmyselfalive in a negatively
vital
way" (p. 282). It was in his abilityto construelettersand in thebare
possibilityof puttinghis lifeintowritingthatWright"caughta sense
of freedom"and knewthathe mustworkout a new identity."I could
submitand live thelifeof a genialslave," Wrightsays, "but,"he adds,
"thatwas impossible"(p. 276). It was impossiblebecause,likeDouglass
and otherslaves,he had arrivedat thecrossroadswherethethreepaths
ofliteracy,identity,
freedommet,and aftersuchknowledgetherewas
no turningback.
in manywaysbutin otherways
BlackBoy resemblesslave narratives
itis cruciallydifferent
fromitspredecessorsand ancestors.It is ofmore
thantrivialinsignificance
thatWright'snarrativedoes not beginwith
"I was born,"nor is it undertheguidanceof any intentionor impulse
otherthanitsown, and whilehis book is largelyepisodicin structure,
itis also-precisely by exerciseofsymbolicmemory-"emplotted"and
in such a way as to construe"significant
wholesout
"configurational"
of scatteredevents."Ultimately,
WrightfreedhimselffromtheSouthat least thisis whathis narrativerecounts-and he was also fortunately free,as theex-slavesgenerallywere not, fromabolitionistcontrol
and freeto exercisethatcreativememorythatwas peculiarlyhis. On
thepenultimate
page ofBlackBoy Wrightsays,"I was leavingtheSouth
to flingmyselfintotheunknown,to meetothersituationsthatwould
perhapselicitfromme otherresponses.And if I could meetenough
of a different
life,then,perhaps,graduallyand slowlyI mightlearn
who I was, what I mightbe. I was not leavingtheSouth to forgetthe
South,butso thatsomeday I mightunderstand
it,mightcometo know
whatitsrigorshad done to me, to itschildren.I fledso thatthenumbnessof mydefensivelivingmightthawout and let me feelthepainyearslaterand faraway-of whatlivingin theSouthhad meant."Here
Wrightnot only exercisesmemorybut also talks about it, reflecting
67
on its creative,therapeutic,redemptive,and liberatingcapacities.In
his conclusionWrightharksback to the themesand the formof the
slave narratives,and at thesame timehe anticipatesthemeand form
in a greatdeal of more recentAfro-American
writing,perhapsmost
notablyin InvisibleMan. Black Boy is like a nexusjoiningslave narrativesof thepast to themostfullydevelopedliterarycreationsof the
theearlier
present:throughthepowerofsymbolicmemoryittransforms
narrativemode into what everyonemust recognizeas imaginative,
creativeliterature,
bothautobiographyand fiction.In theirnarratives
we mightsay, theex-slavesdid thatwhich,all unknowinglyon their
partand onlywhenjoined to capacitiesand possibilitiesnot available
to them,led righton to the traditionof Afro-American
literatureas
we know it now.
NOTES
1ProfessorRicoeur has generouslygiven me permissionto quote
fromthisunpublishedpaper.
2
I have in mindsuch illustrations
as thelargedrawingreproduced
to JohnAndrewJackson'sExperienceofa Slave in South
as frontispiece
Carolina (London: Passmore& Alabaster,1862), describedas a "FacsimileofthegimletwhichI usedto borea hole in thedeckofthevessel";
theengraveddrawingof a torturemachinereproducedon p. 47 of A
Narrative of the Adventuresand Escape of Moses Roper, from
AmericanSlavery (Philadelphia:Merrihew& Gunn, 1838); and the
"REPRESENTATION OF THE BOX, 3 feet1 inchlong, 2 feetwide,
2 feet6 incheshigh,"in whichHenryBox Browntravelledby freight
fromRichmondto Philadelphia,reproducedfollowingthetextof the
Narrativeof HenryBox Brown,Who Escaped fromSlaveryEnclosed
in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide. Writtenfroma Statementof Facts
Made by Himself.WithRemarksupon the Remedyfor Slavery. By
Charles Steams. (Boston: Brown & Stearns,1849). The verytitleof
Box Brown'sNarrativedemonstrates
somethingof themixedmode of
slave narratives.On thequestionof thetextof Brown'snarrativesee
also notes 4 and 12 below.
3
Douglass' Narrativedivergesfromthemasterplan on E4 (he was
himselftheslave who refusedto be whipped),E8 (slave auctionshappenednot to fallwithinhis experience,but he does talkof theseparation of mothersand childrenand the systematicdestructionof slave
families),and E10 (he refusesto tellhow he escaped because to do so
would close one escape routeto thosestillin slavery;in the Lifeand
Times of FrederickDouglass he reveals thathis escape was different
fromthe conventionalone). For the purposesof the presentessay-
68
and also, I think,in general-the Narrativeof 1845 is a much more
and a betterbook thanDouglass' two laterautobiographical
interesting
texts:My Bondage and My Freedom(1855) and Life and Times of
FrederickDouglass (1881). These lattertwo are diffuseproductions
(Bondage and Freedomis threeto fourtimeslongerthan Narrative,
Lifeand Timesfiveto sixtimeslonger)thatdissipatethefocalizedenergy
of the Narrative in lengthyaccounts of post-slaveryactivitiesabolitionistspeeches,recollectionsof friends,tripsabroad, etc. In interesting
ways it seemsto me thattherelativeweaknessof thesetwo
laterbooks is analogous to a similarweaknessin theextendedversion
of Richard Wright'sautobiographypublishedas AmericanHunger
(orginallyconceivedas part of the same textas Black Boy).
4 This is true of the version labelled "first
English edition"Narrativeof theLifeof HenryBox Brown,Writtenby Himself(Manchester:Lee & Glynn,1851)-but notoftheearlierAmericaneditionNarrativeof HenryBox Brown,Who Escaped fromSlaveryEnclosed
in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide. Writtenfroma Statementof Facts
Made by Himself.WithRemarksupon the Remedyfor Slavery. By
CharlesSteams. (Boston: Brown & Stearns,1849). On thebeginning
of theAmericaneditionsee the discussionlaterin thisessay, and on
the relationshipbetweenthe two textsof Brown'snarrativesee note
12 below.
5 Douglass' Narrative begins this way. Neither Bondage and
Freedomnor Lifeand Timesstartswiththeexistentialassertion.This
is one thing,thoughby no meanstheonlyor themostimportantone,
thatremovesthelattertwobooks fromthecategoryof slave narrative.
It is as ifby 1855 and evenmoreby 1881 FrederickDouglass' existence
and his identitywere secureenoughand sufficiently
well knownthat
he no longerfeltthe necessityof the firstand basic assertion.
6 With the exceptionof William Parker's"The Freedman'sStory"
(publishedin theFebruaryand March1866 issuesofAtlanticMonthly)
all thenarratives
listedwereseparatepublications.Therearemanymore
brief"narratives"-so briefthat theyhardlywarrantthe title"narrative":froma singleshortparagraphto threeor fourpagesin lengththatbeginwith "I was born"; thereare, forexample,twenty-five
or
in
such
the
collection
of
Drew
as
The
Benjamin
thirty
published
Refugee:
A North-SideViewofSlavery.I have nottriedto multiplytheinstances
by citingminorexamples;thoselistedin thetextincludethemostimportantof the narratives-Roper, Bibb, W. W. Brown, Douglass,
Thompson, Ward, Pennington,Steward, Clarke, the Crafts-even
is a fraud
JamesWilliams,thoughitis generallyagreedthathisnarrative
In
on
Whittier.
an
Greenleaf
unwittingamanuensis,John
perpetrated
additionto thoselistedin the text,thereare a numberof othernarrativesthatbegin withonly slightvariationson the formulaictag-
69
WilliamHayden:"Thesubjectofthisnarrativewas born";Moses Grandy: "My nameis Moses Grandy;I was born";AndrewJackson:"I, AndrewJackson,was born";ElizabethKeckley:"Mylifehas beenan eventfulone. I was born"; Thomas L. Johnson:"Accordingto information
"
receivedfrommymother,ifthereckoningis correct,I was born...
is
more
than
these
the
variation
Solomon
interesting
Perhaps
playedby
Northup,who was born a freeman in New York State and was kidnapped and sentintoslaveryfortwelveyears;thushe commencesnot
with"I was born"but with"Havingbeen borna freeman"-as itwere
the participialcontingencythat endows his narrativewith a special
fromothernarratives.
poignancyand a markeddifference
Thereis a nice and ironicturnon the"I was born"insistencein the
ratherfoolishscene in Uncle Tom's Cabin (ChapterXX) when Topsy
famouslyopinesthatshewas notmadebutjust"grow'd."Miss Ophelia
catechizesher: " 'Wherewere you born?' 'Neverwas born!' persisted
Topsy." Escaped slaves who hadn'tTopsy's peculiarcombinationof
Stowe-icresignationand manichighspiritsin theface of an imposed
were impelledto assertover and over, "I
non-existence
non-identity,
was born."
7
Douglass' titleis classic to the degreethatit is virtuallyrepeated
by HenryBibb, changingonly thename in theformulaand inserting
readers:Narrative
"Adventures,"
presumablyto attractspectacle-loving
the
and
An
Adventures
American
Bibb,
Slave, Writof
Life
of Henry
tenby Himself.Douglass' Narrativewas publishedin 1845, Bibb's in
1849. I suspectthatBibb derivedhis titledirectlyfromDouglass. That
ex-slaveswritingtheirnarrativeswereaware of earlierproductionsby
fellowex-slaves(and thuswere impelledto samenessin narrativeby
outrightimitationas well as by the conditionsof narrationadduced
in thetextabove) is madeclearin theprefaceto TheLifeofJohnThompson, A FugitiveSlave; ContainingHis Historyof25 Yearsin Bondage,
and His ProvidentialEscape. Writtenby Himself(Worcester:Published by JohnThompson,1856), p. v: "It was suggestedto me about two
yearssince,afterrelatingto manythemain factsrelativeto my bondage and escape to theland of freedom,thatit would be a desirable
thingto put thesefactsintopermanentform.I firstsoughtto discover
whathad been said by otherpartnersin bondage once, but in freedom
now...."
Withthisforewarning
thereadershould not be surprised
to discoverthatThompson'snarrativefollowstheconventionsof the
formveryclosely indeed.
8 However much Douglass changed his narrativein successive
incarnations-theopeningparagraph,for example, underwentconchose to retainthissentenceintact.It ocsiderabletransformation-he
curson p. 52 of theNarrativeof theLifeof FrederickDouglass . . .
ed. BenjaminQuarles (Cambridge,Mass., 1960); on p. 132 ofMy Bon-
70
dage and My Freedom,intro.PhilipS. Foner(New York, 1969); and
on p. 72 of Lifeand Timesof FrederickDouglass, intro.RayfordW.
Logan (New York, 1962).
9 For convenienceI have adopted thislistfromJohnF. Bayliss'introductionto Black Slave Narratives(New York, 1970), p. 18. As will
be apparent,however,I do not agreewiththepointBaylisswishesto
makewithhis list. Having quoted fromMarion Wilson Starling'sunpublished dissertation,"The Black Slave Narrative: Its Place in
AmericanLiteraryHistory,"to theeffectthattheslave narratives,except those from Equiano and Douglass, are not generallyvery
as literature,
distinguished
Baylisscontinues:"Starlingis beingunfair
heresincethenarrativesdo show a diversityofinteresting
styles...
The leadingnarratives,
suchas thoseofDouglass,WilliamWellsBrown,
and Roperdeserveto be conBall,Bibb,Henson,Northup,Pennington,
for
a
in
sidered
place Americanliterature,a place beyond themerely
historical."Since Ball's narrativewas writtenby one "Mr. Fisher"and
Northup'sby David Wilson,and sinceHenson'snarrativeshowsa good
one mightexpectfroma man who billedhimself
deal of thecharlantry
as 'The OriginalUncleTom,"itseemsat besta strategic
errorforBayliss
to includethemamongthoseslave narrativessaid to show thegreatest
literarydistinction.To putit anotherway, itwould be neithersurprisifMr. Fisher(a whiteman),David Wilson
ingnorspeciallymeritorious
white
and
Henson
(a
man),
Josiah
(The OriginalUncle Tom) were to
of
"a
display diversity interesting
styles"whentheirnarrativesare put
those
W.
W. Brown,Bibb, Pennington,and
alongside
by Douglass,
But
the
fact,as I shallarguein thetext,is that
Roper.
reallyinteresting
do
not
show
a
of
they
diversity interesting
styles.
10Here we discoveranotherminorbut revealingdetail of the conventionestablishing
itself.Justas itbecameconventionalto have a signed portraitand authenticating
so it became at least
letters/prefaces,
semi-conventional
to have an imprintreadingmore or less like this:
"Boston:Anti-Slavery
Office,25 Cornhill."A Cornhilladdressis given
the
for,amongothers, narrativesof Douglass, WilliamWells Brown,
Box Brown,Thomas Jones,JosiahHenson,Moses Grandy,and James
Williams.The lastoftheseis especiallyinteresting
for,althoughitseems
thathis narrativeis at leastsemi-fraudulent,
Williamsis on thispoint,
as on so many others,altogetherrepresentative.
11Narrativeof HenryBox Brown....
(Boston: Brown& Stears,
25.
1849), p.
12 The questionof thetextof Brown'sNarrativeis a good deal more
complicatedthanI have space to show, but thatcomplicationrather
than invalidatesmy argumentabove. The textI analyze
strengthens
above was publishedin Boston in 1849. In 1851 a "firstEnglishedition"was publishedin Manchesterwiththespecification"Writtenby
71
Himself."It would appear that in preparingthe Americanedition
Steamsworkedfroma ms. copy ofwhatwould be publishedtwoyears
lateras the firstEnglishedition-or fromsome ur-textlyingbehind
both. In any case, Stearnshas laid on theTrue AbolitionistStylevery
heavily,but thereis already,in the version"Writtenby Himself,"a
good deal of the abolitionistmannerpresentin diction,syntax,and
tone.IfthefirstEnglisheditionwas reallywrittenby Brownthiswould
makehiscase parallelto thecase ofHenryBibb,discussedbelow,where
theabolitioniststyleinsinuatesitselfinto the textand takes over the
styleof the writingeven when thatis actuallydone by an ex-slave.
This is not theplace forit, but therelationshipbetweenthetwo texts,
thevariationsthatoccurin them,and theexplanationforthosevariationswould provide the subjectforan immenselyinteresting
study.
13 Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative
of Solomon Northup,a Citizen
of New-York,Kidnapped in WashingtonCity in 1841, and Rescued
in 1853, froma Cotton PlantationNear the Red River,in Louisiana
(Auburn: Derby & Miller,1853), p. xv. Referencesin the textare to
thisfirstedition.
14 I am surprised
thatRobertStepto,in his excellentanalysisof the
internalworkingsof theWilson/Northup
book, doesn'tmake moreof
thisquestionofwhereto locatetherealauthority
ofthebook. See From
Behindthe Veil: A Study of Afro-American
Narrative(Urbana, Ill.,
1979), pp. 11-16.
Whetherintentionally
or not,GilbertOsofskybadlymisleadsreaders
of thebook unfortunately
called Puttin'On Ole Massa when he fails
to includethe"Editor'sPreface"by David Wilsonwithhis printingof
TwelveYearsa Slave: NarrativeofSolomonNorthup.Thereis nothing
in Osofsky'stextto suggestthatDavid Wilsonor anyoneelse butNorthuphad anythingto do withthe narrative-on the contrary:"Northup,Brown,and Bibb, as theirautobiographiesdemonstrate,were
menof creativity,
wisdomand talent.Each was capable of writinghis
lifestorywithsophistication"
(Puttin'On Ole Massa [NewYork,1969],
p. 44). Northuppreciselydoes not writehis lifestory,eitherwithor
withoutsophistication,and Osofskyis guiltyof badly obscuringthis
fact.Osofsky'sliteraryjudgement,withtwo-thirds
of whichI do not
agree,is that"The autobiographiesofFrederick
Douglass, HenryBibb,
and SolomonNorthupfuseimaginativestylewithkeennessof insight.
and self-critical,
They are penetrating
superiorautobiographyby any
standards"(p. 10).
15 To anticipateone possibleobjection,I would argue thatthecase
is essentiallydifferent
withThe AutobiographyofMalcolm X, written
by Alex Haley. To put it simply,therewere manythingsin common
between Haley and Malcolm X; between white amanuenses/editors/authors
and ex-slaves, on the other hand, almost
nothingwas shared.
72
Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An
AmericanSlave, Writtenby Himself.Withan Introductionby Lucius
C. Matlack (New York: Publishedby the Author; 5 Spruce Street,
1849), p. i. Page citationsin the textare fromthisfirstedition.
of slave narratives-the
It is a greatpitythatin modernreprintings
threein Osofsky'sPuttin'On Ole Massa, forexample-the illustrations
in theoriginalsare omitted.A modemreadermissesmuchof theflavor
so fullof pathos and
of a narrativelike Bibb's when theillustrations,
tendersentiment,
not to mentionsome exquisitecrueltyand violence,
are not withthe text.The two illustrationson p. 45 (captions: "Can
a motherforgether sucklingchild?" and "The tendermerciesof the
wicked are cruel"),the one on p. 53 ("Never mindthe money"),and
theone on p. 81 ("My heartis almostbroken")can be takenas typical.
in Bibb's narAn interesting
psychologicalfactabout theillustrations
rativeis thatof the twenty-onetotal,eighteeninvolve some formof
of
physicalcruelty,torture,or brutality.The uncaptionedillustration
p. 133 of two naked slaves on whom some infernalpunishmentis beingpractisedsaysmuchabout (in Matlack'sphrase)thereader'sfeverish
thirstforgushingbeautifulfountains"startedfrombeneaththerod of
violence."
17 Or 1852, the date of Uncle Tom's Cabin. HarrietBeecherStowe
recognizeda kindrednovelisticspiritwhenshe read one (justas David
Wilson/SolomonNorthupdid). In 1851, when she was writingUncle
Tom's Cabin, Stowe wroteto FrederickDouglass sayingthatshe was
about lifeon a cottonplantationforhernovel: "I
seekinginformation
have beforeme an able paper writtenby a southernplanterin which
thedetails& modus operandiare givenfromhis pointof sight-I am
anxiousto have some morefromanotherstandpoint-I wishto be able
to make a picturethatshallbe graphic& trueto naturein itsdetailsSuch a person as HenryBibb, if in thiscountry,mightgive me just
I desire."This letteris dated July9, 1851 and
thekindof information
has been transcribedfroma photographiccopy reproducedin Ellen
Moers, HarrietBeecher Stowe and American Literature(Hartford,
Conn.: Stowe-Day Foundation,1978), p. 14.
18 Since
writingthe above, I discover that in his Life and Times
Douglass says of theconclusionof his abolitionistwork,"Othello'soccupationwas gone" (New York: Collier-Macmillan,1962, p. 373), but
matterfromthewhitesponsor's
thisstillseemsto me rathera different
oftheblack
invariantallusionto Othelloin attesting
to thetruthfulness
account.
narrator's
A contemporaryreviewerof The Interesting
Narrativeof the Life
the
or
Gustavus Vassa,
Africanwrote,in The
of Olaudah Equiano,
GeneralMagazine and ImpartialReview (July1789), "This is 'a round
unvarnishedtale'of thechequeredadventuresof an African .... "(see
16
73
appendixto vol. I of The Lifeof Olaudah Equiano, ed. Paul Edwards
[London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1969].
JohnGreenleafWhittier,thoughstungonce in his sponsorshipof
JamesWilliams'Narrative,did not shrinkfroma second,similarvennote" to theAutobiographyof the
ture,writing,in his "introductory
Rev. JosiahHenson (Mrs. HarrietBeecherStowe's "Uncle Tom") also knownas UncleTom's StoryofHis LifeFrom1789 to 1879-"The
earlylifeof theauthor,as a slave, . . . provesthatin theterriblepicturesof 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' thereis 'nothingextenuateor aughtset
down in malice"' (Boston: B. B. Russell & Co., 1879, p. viii).
19 Quoted by Philip S. Foner in the introduction
to My Bondage
and My Freedom,pp. xi-xii.
20 Both
quotationsfromBenjaminQuarles, "The Breach Between
Douglass and Garrison,"JournalofNegroHistory,XXIII (April1938),
p. 147, note 19, and p. 154.
21 The listis fromNichols'
(Brown
unpublisheddoctoraldissertation
University,1948), "A Study of the Slave Narrative,"p. 9.
22Black Boy: A Record Childhoodand Youth(New York, 1966),
of
p. 282.