Antebellum Slave Culture

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Since the late 1960s, ante-bellum slave narratives have experienced a

renaissance as dozens of the thousands still extant have been reprinted and as

scholars have published major works on the sources, art, and developmentof the

narratives; the people who produced them; and their on-going influence on later

work. Drawing upon slave narratives as well among other sources, John

Blassingame's The Slave Community (1972), for example, drew attention to the

complex social interactions developed in antebellum slave culture. Examining

the milieu that spawned the narratives and their development, and providing

insights into what the narratives can tell about slavery as well as what they omit,

Frances Smith Foster's Witnessing Slavery (1979) gave readers a book-length

analysis of the genre. Robert B. Stepto's From Behind the Veil (1979) situated

slave narratives at the center of African-American written narrative. John Sekora

and Darwin Turner's collection of essays, The Art of the Slave Narrative (1982),

focused closer attention on how the narratives achieved their rhetorical effects.

In The Slave's Narrative (1985), Charles T. Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

gathered excerpts from some of the best-known narratives and essays about the

narratives as history and autobiographical literature. William L. Andrews's To

Tell a Free Story (1987) examined the narratives as public autobiographies, at

once exploring and demanding freedom. Today, hardly a book is published on

American autobiography without a chapter on slave narratives. Not only do

scholars writing about African-American literature often refer to the slave

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...ased; unlike the narratives written

by men, women's narratives do not emphasize this factor. While male narrators

accentuate the role of literacy, females stress the importance of relationships.

Given the importance of relationships in the lives of most women, this is hardly

surprising. Through their narratives, both male and female fugitives and exslaves

strove to counter the racial stereotypes that bound them even in "free"

societies. Black men and women, however, faced different stereotypes. Black

men combated the stereotype that they were "boys" while black women contested

the idea that they were either helpless victims or whores. For a male fugitive,

public discourse served to claim his place among men; for a female her relationships—

as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend—demonstrated her womanliness

and her shared roles with women readers.
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