In this essay, I will be examining the works of two authors on the topic of slavery in America: Ulrich B. Phillips American Negro Slavery (1918) and Toni Morrison Beloved (1987). One writes as a Southerner and a historian who is defending southern slaveholders and draws upon contemporary racial theory to justify the system as beneficial to African Americans. The other writes as an African-American woman who is looking to write women into history and in doing so, add a female voice to the past. The purpose of comparing these two texts is to bring awareness that historical knowledge is constructed and not a given and that the profile of the author influences the content of their work.
When examining the history of slavery in America, we have a number of different sources to draw on. These include the accounts of fugitive slaves, of slave owners and of abolitionists. There are also fictional works of black and white authors who use these accounts as a hook from which to hang their own stories. There are the analyses of those who identify as anthropologists, sociologists and historians. Not all that has been written on the subject has survived or been preserved, so at times, all we have are fragments of written accounts. There is also a distinction to be made between texts written at the time of slavery, such as Phillips work, and interpretative texts which have been written since by novelists or academics, such as Morrison's Beloved. All provide us with insights into the same period in history, yet do so from different perspectives and offer the reader the opportunity to hear from more than one homogenous voice.
Toni Morrison wrote Beloved in 1987 in an attempt to deal adequately with imagining slavery and with the...
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Angelo, Bonnie. TIME magazine "The Pain of Being Black" an interview with Toni Morrison, May 22, 1989
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Morrison, Toni. Beloved, Vintage Press (1987)
Nigro, Marie. Revisioning History through Literary Characters: Louise Erdrich's Pauline and Toni Morrison's Beloved. Lincoln University. WILLA, Vol 9, Fall 2000
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Zinsser, William (editor), Toni Morrison: The Site of Memory. Taken from Inventing the Truth. Houghton Mifflin company: New York, 1995.