Voice in the Slave Narratives of Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass and Solomon Northrup - Black Studies S. v.9 (Hardback)Carver Wendell Waters (author)
Hardback 252 Pages / Published: 31/12/2002
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It is quite appropriate for Dr. Waters to examine "voice" in these three important narratives on the African-American experience in slavery, By analyzing how Equiano, Douglass, and Northrup used language, symbolism, experiences and events in their lives as slaves to describe, critique, and attack slavery, Dr. Waters provides us with the subtextual meaning of the narratives. The most important contribution is that it provides scholars and studnets with a new way to analyze and understand American slave narratives. One of the most fascinating phenomena of American history is how the slave experience of Africans in America has been documented to balance the myth of the "Old South" with the brutal realities of racial oppression. Indeed, the United States is quite unique in having a body of narratives by former slaves to balance and challenge the myths and lies of the "master" or slaveholding class about the nature of American slavery. In the Atlantic World, at least, no other people who were formerly enslaved have written and produced as extensive a body of literature to document, expose, and chronicle their experience in slavery. Thus, these narratives are very valuable because they enable us to understand the slave experience of African Americans and to capture its impact on the lives of those Africans who endured it. The narratives by Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, and Solomon Northrup are three of the best of the slave narrative genre. For over 150 years, these three narratives have provided students, scholars, and the general reading public firsthand accounts of the slave experience of Africans in America. They provide us a broad picture of slavery in America for a time span of over 100 years. In addition, they provide three similar but very different perspectives on slavery in the Americas. Equiano's narrative, which was published in the eighteenth century, takes readers on a journey from West Africa through the Middle Passage to the Caribbean to England, and to the American mainland. Douglass' nineteenth century narrative provides readers a view of his enslavement from childhood to adulthood in the border state of Maryland and documents how his personal experience with and escape from the institution made him a formidable opponent of oppression and racism for the remainder of his life. In contrast to Equiano and Douglass, Northrup came of age as a free black man in the northern state of New York. But his narrative about his kidnapping and twelve-year enslavement in Louisiana provides readers ample evidence that American slavery even jeopardized the lives of nominally free blacks throughout the United States. It is quite appropriate for Carver Waters to examine "voice" in these three important narratives on the African-American experience in slavery. By analyzing how Equiano, Douglass, and Northrup used language, symbolism, experiences, and events in their lives as slaves to describe, critique, and attack slavery, Waters provides us the subtextual meaning of the narratives. His interpretation and analysis of the narratives takes us beyond our usual surface reading of the narratives and shows us how each author used simulation, dissimulation, and exteriorization to give voice to their feelings about and experiences with American slavery. He compares and contrasts the language and expository styles of each of the authors and uses textual analyses of each narrative to show how they used emotion, faith, pathos, and other literary devices to convey their overall message about the evil and inhumanity of slavery. He also provides us a much needed historical background for each of the narratives and compares the "voice" devices that each author employs to tell his story with the literary trends of the era in which the author lived. Finally, he shows us that the basic message of each author's narrative was human freedom and human salvation. Carver Waters' study of voice in these narratives is well done. His most important contribution is that he has provided scholars and students a new way to analyze and understand American slave narratives. He has also placed the narratives within the context of American literature by showing how each of the authors used the literary devices of their time to present their narratives and to appeal to the audiences of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Using impeccable research and an impressive of the scholarly literature (both historical and literary) written on the American slave narratives, he has established a new standard for both historians and literature scholars for evaluating and using the slave narratives.
Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd
Number of pages: 252
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