Interpretations of Slavery

Powerful Essays
Interpretations of Slavery


Slavery is known to have existed as early as the 18th century B.C. during the Shang Dynasty of China. Slavery was widely practiced in many other countries, including, Korea, India, Greece, Mexico and Africa. (Britannica 288-89). When most people consider slavery, however, they think of Western slavery in North America because it is well documented and it was such a horrible institution. Even though there is no one definition of slavery, the people who study it (historians, anthropologists and sociologists) agree that certain characteristics are present in all forms of slavery. Slaves were property and objects, not subjects of the law. Slaves had few rights, always fewer than their owners. Slave were also limited to few social activities and were not allowed to participate in political decisions. Finally, any earnings aquired by slaves by law belonged to their master. Also, slaves were prevented from making their own choices regarding physical reproduction. Western slavery took each of these slave characteristics to a new level and as a result there are many authors who wrote about the evil institution of slavery in the Colonies.

American literature is full of authors who describe, condone or oppose slavery, the most informative and influential of whom were Black writers because many were able to give a personal perspective on slavery. These Black writers had to struggle to be accepted as literary writers before they could get their message across. "The tradition of black writing in the United States is, in many ways, a history of attempts at literary liberation from racism-attempts to articulate in a specifically black context the characteristic American themes of freedom and self-determ...

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...d by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Penguin Group Publishing, New York, 1987.

Costanzo, Angelo. Surprizing Narrative, Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of the Black Autobiography, New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Penguin Group Publishing, New York, 1987.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Penguin Group Publishing, New York, 1987.

Hughes, Langston, Milton Meltzon. A Pictorial History of the Negro and America, New York: Crown, 1968.

O'Neale Sondra. "Olaudah Equiano," Dictionary of Literary Biography, American Writers of the Early Republic, ed. Emory Elliot. Vol 37. Princeton: Bruccoli, Clark and Layman Book, 1985.

"Slavery." The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 1995 ed.
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