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Discuss the ways in which any two writers deal with the historical realities of slavery. Melville and Mark Twain

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Introduction

Tamsin Christofides Tjc9 EN557 19th Century American Literature Dr Stafania Ciocia Discuss the ways in which any two writers deal with the historical realities of slavery Slavery was first brought to the Southern United States in 1619, with the invention of the Cotton Gin in 1793 there was a huge demand for slaves from many countries including the Caribbean and Africa to work on plantations. At its peak roughly forty percent of the Southern population were slaves and it was not unknown to have a fifty percent mortality rate during the journey to 'The New World'. According to American laws at the time slaves were treated as property by their owners and could be bought and sold as easily and carelessly as livestock. Slaves were sometimes allowed to marry and marriage was often imposed on them, this was not recognised by the state, however, and slave owners were free to split up couples and families as they pleased simply by selling them on to new owners. Children born into slavery were raised until they were Twelve at which time they were sent to the fields to work from sunup to sundown; this would continue until they died or were set free. Slaves were treated badly, beatings, r**e and murder were not uncommon but unlike free Americans they had few rights and little to no access to education, healthcare or justice. During this period in history there was a great deal of literature written about slavery, some pro slavery and some anti. Many fought for years to abolish slavery in the Southern states and it was the succession of the Civil war and Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. ...read more.

Middle

The narrative points out the stupidity of the ideas of prejudiced people, it is a subtle warning of what will happen when human freedom and equality is threatened. Melville points out that slavery has no positive outcomes and only breeds inhumanity and malevolence in men. Where 'Benito Cereno' works with highly symbolic terms, 'The adventures of Huckleberry Finn' appears straightforward and simplistic when it comes to interpretation. 'Huck Finn' is a story of a young lower class boy who escapes the beatings of his drunken father and sets off on an adventure with Jim, an escaped slave. 'Huck Finn' could be seen as an adventure book and was read so by many children, it is only when one understands the issues involved that you can read between the lines and see a deeper meaning. Twain wrote the book two decades after the Emancipation proclamation and after the civil war but America was still struggling with the Southern sates; 'Reconstruction' was meant to help black people integrate themselves into society but was faltering only a few years after it was introduced. It can be read as an anti slavery novel, we see cruel r****m in 'Pap' as he expresses his feelings on how a black man had the vote, 'They told me there was a state in this country where they'd let a n****r vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote again', many thought that because Twain used such words as 'n****r' he was encouraging r****m. The most prominent part of the story is Huck's struggle with what he has been told is right and what he feels is right in his heart. The widow Douglass had subjected Huck to schooling but he has not yet been indoctrinated with the values and attitudes that Melville spoke of. ...read more.

Conclusion

At the end of the novel Tom Sawyer reveals that Jim was a free man all along and that he was going to pay Jim for his troubles. This underlines the indifference at which people saw the plight of Black people and how Tom saw Jim as mere sport, what's more is that no one seems to see what Tom had done as bad, no one appeared to care for Jims trouble. The novel does not come to a close and Twain leaves it so there could easily be another story to write about Huck and Tom and their adventures with the 'Injuns'. By doing this Twain again comments on American society. Huck's great experience should have taught him much but he doesn't seem to take heed of this lesson and goes off on another adventure without developing or changing as a character. Twain reiterates that unless there is a fundamental change in societies values then it wall never change and will never learn from its mistakes and experiences. Both writers don't explicitly write about slavery like other writers of the time, Frederick Douglass for example wrote a poignant biography of his life and Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote 'Uncle Toms Cabin' which caused tremendous controversy when it was published. Twain and Melville wrote more subtle accounts of slavery in America and unlike the other aforementioned they wrote stories that were popular with a wide ranging audience because they were ambiguous and the message that they were trying to get across was hidden. Twain and Melville weren't openly apposed to slavery and it could be said that there stories were written so as not to make a stand against the institution of slavery but to comment on society and how there is something fundamentally wrong with the 'New World's' philosophy. ...read more.

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