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Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

Created: 01/31/12

Replies: 15

Posted Jan. 31, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
admin

Join Date: 10/11/10

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Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

In his research for The Healing, Jonathan Odell consulted an oral history project conducted by the WPA in the 1930s in which thousands of surviving former slaves were interviewed. There were some who said that given the poverty, discrimination, and random brutality they had experienced in the twentieth century, they wished they were still slaves under their old masters. Indeed, Master Satterfield in The Healing is not stereotypically cruel. Are there any instances when he seems sympathetic to his slaves? Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?


Posted Feb. 02, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
scottishrose

Join Date: 07/24/11

Posts: 11

RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I wouldn't say servitude under a kind tyrant makes it less objectionable. I would say it makes it more tolerable for the person in slavery. For the most part it appeared Master Satterfield didn't beat his slaves or treat them cruelly, but if crossed he could still resort to that type of treatment. He did with Polly. The problem is that although he may have been "kind", he still saw his slaves a property not human beings. He needed the slaves to keep his huge plantation profitable which is why he was willing to pay so much for Polly. It was a means to an end.


Posted Feb. 02, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
harriettek

Join Date: 10/19/10

Posts: 22

RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

Slavery is never "kind" or "tolerable". A person under bondage is just that. Slaves are objects. They are less. The movies bought into this earlier on with "Gone With The Wind", "Jezebel" and the like, with the "Darkies" congregating on the lawn in front of the plantation and singing, dancing, and appearing happy. The "prayer Sundays" in the book were a great demonstration of the owners showing a kindness to the slaves.


Posted Feb. 02, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
bonnieb

Join Date: 09/11/11

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I agree with HarrietteK. Servitude can never be acceptable whether under a tyrant or a 'kind' master. Slavery is plain wrong and inhumane regardless of the circumstances.


Posted Feb. 03, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
Reader

Join Date: 08/11/11

Posts: 11

RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I agree that slavery is objectionable regardless of the "kindness" of the master. I can see how individuals born into slavery, so it was all they ever knew (like Granada and the former slaves from the WPA narratives) felt lucky if they had the stature and easier life of house slaves and if their "master" was relatively kind. From their perspective, they were provided for by the master. On the same plantation, the swamp slaves (treated as working livestock) were not even adequately fed by this same supposedly "kind" master until Polly convinced him it was necessary and more cost-effective to maintain their health. He did not bring Polly in as a kindness to the slaves but as business move to preserve his working livestock. You get the impression plantation owners would have been quicker to apply money and resources to eradicate a plague among their breeding stock of horses or cattle.


Posted Feb. 03, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
debracoley

Join Date: 08/11/11

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I agree with the other readers; when I read this question, my immediate response was servitude-racial or
gender based-is never acceptable. I was moved by the fact that Mrs. Satterfield and Polly stood their
ground with the Master Satterfield. Even though the woman's movement was decades away, these two
women knew how to get the Masters' attention. Of course, to remain in control of these women, Master Satterfield literally had to relinquish the reigns of control. Odell even hints that without his wife's financial
dowery, the Master would not be THE MASTER.


Posted Feb. 06, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
sarahd

Join Date: 10/16/10

Posts: 84

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I totally agree with the above comments, and believe slavery in any form is unacceptable, but I still find it interesting that some of the slaves in the WPA interviews wished they were back in servitude. Perhaps they didn't see it like we see it? Yes, there were obviously atrocities, but if you were allowed to work in the house, have a degree of independence - within the scope of your work - were provided home, food, medical care, and other benefits, and were never physically abused, perhaps the change to taking care of yourself, especially in an environment that was hostile to you (Jim Crow South), would make you miss your former life? I don't know because I don't have any way of knowing, but I always took it for granted that all slaves wanted to be free, and I was surprised to read that some slaves actually missed slavery.


Sarah D
Posted Feb. 06, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

The slaves' comments in the WPA interviews don't particularly surprise me as I've heard similar sentiments from other people who, by any objective analysis, would seem to be living in better times than once they did, but still look back wistfully on those earlier times. For example, within a few years of the Soviet Union collapsing you could find many older people professing that they wished they were back in the old Soviet Union. I don't think it's that they've forgotten the details of their former lives but that somehow time softens the harshness of the day to day specifics; and this, combined with the sad fact that most of us become less adaptable to change as we get older, can make earlier times seem perversely attractive.

I think Hilary Mantel summed things up rather well in an essay in the Guardian a couple of years back when she wrote, "History offers us vicarious experience. It allows the youngest student to possess the ground equally with his elders; without a knowledge of history to give him a context for present events, he is at the mercy of every social misdiagnosis handed to him. The old always think the world is getting worse; it is for the young, equipped with historical facts, to point out that, compared with 1509, or even 1939, life in 2009 is sweet as honey. Immersion in history doesn't make you backward-looking; it makes you want to run like hell towards the future." http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/17/hilary-mantel-author-booker


Posted Feb. 07, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
cherylk

Join Date: 05/16/11

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

There is no excuse for any type of slavery, in any form. Although Mistress Amanda did stand her ground with Master Satterfield, she was no less "bound" to him as a woman. The Master may not have directly inflicted punishment on his slaves, but he gave instruction to Mr. Bridger to do the dirty work. Was Master Satterfield kind? I think he was a product of the times and the position he was born or married into. It is difficult to comprehend how anyone, particularly a "kind" person, would treat other human beings as he did. Servitude under any type of tyrant is objectionable.


Posted Feb. 07, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
gwendolyndawson

Join Date: 10/20/10

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

Servitude under a kind tyrant makes the system more bearable but not less objectionable. Slavery is morally wrong in all cases, regardless of the kindness of the master. However, I do think a kind master can make an immoral situation more humane.


Posted Feb. 07, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
joyces

Join Date: 06/16/11

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I am not sure any of us can answer that question since we have never been slaves. I think that a kind Master would be easier just because it was less unbearable but Iam sure it was never really easy. As to the slaves that remember those times as being better than freedom in the early twentieth century I think that is only because they think that they would at least have a security of place, food etc. whereas freedom left them totally to their own devices in a world they really did not understand.


Posted Feb. 08, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
rebajane

Join Date: 04/21/11

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I don't think you can use the adjective "kind" here because there really can be no such thing as a kind tyrant. Either the master was a tyrant meaning he was ruthless and cruel or he was a kind master who showed some caring and compassion. But, given your point, I don't think anyone who holds another person in bondage can be less objectionable. Its still wrong


Posted Feb. 08, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
dianes

Join Date: 05/16/11

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

I can see how servitude under kindness would make the slave less willing to be free. Everyone fears the unknown, and having to fend for yourself after having been somewhat provided for is scary. Where do they go? They have no other home, no way to support themselves. If the master is cruel it makes someone more willing to fight, even if the future is unknown. The system itself is still objectionable but it is the only system and home they have known.


Posted Feb. 15, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jww

Join Date: 05/31/11

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RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

Servitude of ANY kind is objectionable. That being said, it is obvious to me that a kind master would be infintely better than a cruel master. You used the word 'tyrant'. Not all slave owners were tyrants. Many were simply farmers using the system available to them at the time. That does not make the system OK, it just makes it a fact.
Servitude has come with many faces over the history of mankind. Servitude is still very much in existence in many parts of this world and in individual societies. Servitude is insidious. It can be psychological as well as physical. It can be subtle or overt. Anytime we allow freedoms of ANY kind to be taken away (political or personal), we take a step toward servitude.


Posted Feb. 25, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
trezelineb

Join Date: 04/24/11

Posts: 16

RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

Regardless of the kindness of the slave owner, the system takes away the very essense of the soul, if one lets it. The system of slavery made some slaves see their value only through the eyes of their owner or master.


Posted Mar. 08, 2012 Go to Top | Bottom | link | alert
jeann

Join Date: 11/14/11

Posts: 41

RE: Does servitude under a kind tyrant make such a system less objectionable or more?

Slaves were property. Some slave owners might treat their working people better than others did, but the slaves were still in bondage. Nothing made it right.

I don't know how they could deal with suddenly being free in a land that didn't value them as equal individuals. They had to try to make it in a hostile world, with no experiences to draw on, since on the plantation they were not permitted to make decisions for themselves. Housing and food were provided. Just the minimum needs were met- just enough to keep the slaves able to work for their masters- and bring in more money to the plantation. Still, freedom at that time might have been so hard that I can see how some people might want to go back to what they have always known.
Looking back on this time in our history is painful and shaming. Man's inhumanity to man.
Still today, there is human bondage in the world, in many different ways. We need to remember the past- but not just remember, learn from it.


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