The Issues of Slavery: Reflection in Literature

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The age of Romanticism is characterized not only by the growth of cultural development of human society but also by the ongoing debates about the maintenance of the slave market and promotion of abolition ideas. There is much evidence that advocates on both sides of the issue relied on the moral and economic arguments for their positions.

Different authors like, Mary Prince and Maria Edgeworth, take different positions on slavery because they view slavery in different ways and discuss different themes in their works.

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It seemed that people during the Romantic period viewed certain common themes within the time period like: cults of emotion, a huge stress on imagination, some importance of personal feelings, a religious-like attachment to nature and a little bit of suspicion of uniformity at the expense of individuality.

With the works of Mary Prince’s, The History of Mary Prince (1831) and Maria Edgeworth’s The Grateful Negro (1798), these pieces were written to show people how African-Americans were treated, and their treatment depended on their owners. Slavery during the Romantic period was described in the literature in a way that allowed the reader to assess the emotions and feelings of slaves and accept the power of freedom. The slaves never knew if they would end up going into a good home where the owner was a caring human who would treat them well, or if they were going to be sold to a slave owner who didn’t seem to care too much for his property. In Maria Edgeworth’s story The Grateful Negro , special attention is paid to abolitionist views on slavery.

The author is aimed at promoting anti-slavery ideas which are developed to prove the significance of free labour ideology. In this story, slavery is presented as a way of reformation of wage labor. The major goal of reform offered by the author is to make slaves accept their dependent status voluntary and become interested in this condition. Mr. Edwards, the good planter, explains the difference between slaves and wage laborer’s: granting it to be physically impossible that the world should exist without rum, sugar, and indigo, why could they not be produced by freemen as well as slaves? If we hired negroes for labourers, instead of purchasing them for slaves, do you think they would not work as well as they do now? (Edgeworth 337).

The author is focused on considering the role of slaves’ humanity in order to explain their psychological nature. The main characters of the story are the slaves Caesar and Clara who were bought by the successful planter Mr. Edwards from the indepted planter Mr. Jefferies. Mr. Edwards wanted to save them from being sold in the slave market. The author is interested in discussion of the psychology of interpersonal relationships. The key idea is to represent a slave who is ready to accept his position. Hence, Caesar makes himself a slave voluntary, because he shows his devotion in exchange of the opportunity to marry the girl he loved. He asked Mr. Edwards, Will you be my master? Will you be her master? Buy both of us. You shell not repent of it. Caesar will serve you faithfully (336).

This fact means that in the story The Grateful Negro , slavery is presented as a voluntary action which does not promote freedom. In the book The History of Mary Prince, the author Mary Prince describes the suffering of a black woman who served as a slave for most of her life in Bermuda, Turks Island and Antigua, and who, finally, arrived in London with her violent master Mr. Wood. Special attention is paid to the accurate description of the various forms of violence of enslavement. The book was used as an influential source that inspired the members of anti-slavery movement.

The author’s key goal is to make the reader aware of the benefits of abolition of slavery. The Slave trade was illegal in Britain, but there were still many slaves who worked on plantations and faced oppression and violence. The author shares her emotions and feelings about the negative effects of slavery on human life, Oh, the horrors of slavery! – How the thought of it pains my heart. The author is aware of the fact that her personal experience of enslavement could help other people to assess the role of freedom in human society. Not all of Mary Prince’s owner’s treater her awful, she did have a few caring owners like Mrs. Williams and Miss Betsey.

Prince had this to say about her first owner, Mrs. Williams was a kind-hearted good woman, and she treated all her slaves well. She had only one daughter, Miss Betsey, for whom I was purchased, and who was about my own age. I was made quite a pet of by Miss Betsey, and loved her very much. Mary Prince was shown compassion and love as she grew up under this family, and she became use to this sweet treatment instead of harsh owners who beat their slaves for the little things.

Thus, it is necessary to conclude that the age of Romanticism was a complicated period in the history of humanity because it provided different views on slavery and placed emphasis on the cult of emotions and personal feelings on both sides, the owners and slaves. In the stories The Grateful Negro by Edgeworth and The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince, special attention is paid to perception of slavery by the main characters, who had to become slaves because of the established laws of human society.

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The Issues of Slavery: Reflection in Literature. (2019, Apr 15). Retrieved from