184 All The Slave Texts Thus Far

Tucker Hayford

We’ve been talking about slavery for a while now in class, inevitably. Over the last few books read- Benito CerenoThe Heroic Slave, and the beginning of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, we’ve gotten multiple perspectives on slavery and multiple depictions of white vs. black people.

Most recently, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the differences were interesting. Within the cast of black characters that we meet, I was struck by the amount “air time” they got compared to other slave texts. Eliza and George were the characters that we were following most of the time and thanks to the narration, we got to see a lot of what they were thinking. In Benito Cereno, it seemed like there was very little black perspective and in The Heroic Slave there was some but it really seemed to be the Mr. Listwell show. I think having the “air time”, so to speak, is important in gaining sympathy for characters. It’s easier to justify something as an anti-slavery text when there are legitimate perspectives form slaves.

The white characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin also proved to have an interesting dichotomy, but depictions not too far off from the other books. There always seems to be a “good” white guy and a “bad” white guy in each of the texts (I use quotation marks because… well… it’s still slavery). In this book, so far, Mr. Shelby seems to embody our “good” white guy, or at least comparatively speaking.  Mr. Listwell obviously was the good guy in The Heroic Slave. Then I think we were supposed to sympathize with Benito, even though I didn’t really like anyone in that book.

All of the parallels and differences between these slave texts give me the impression that Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and its fair distribution of “air time”, is meant to be a more progressive text for its time, even as it was published a few years prior to Benito Cereno and the same year as The Heroic Slave.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Tucker Hayford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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