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Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

Created: 10/27/16

Replies: 7

Posted Oct. 27, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1358

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Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

The book emphasizes how slaves were treated as property and reduced to objects. Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?


Posted Nov. 02, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jeannew

Join Date: 04/23/11

Posts: 91

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RE: Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

I don't feel that this book changed my understanding of slavery. I've read many books set in that era and this one pretty much jibed with the others I've read. Maybe this one was a little more graphic.


Posted Nov. 03, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
JLPen77

Join Date: 02/05/16

Posts: 164

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RE: Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

I spent a lot of my professional development time as a teacher learning more about slavery as part of a Flow of History group. And I think this novel shows slavery in a way one doesn’t get from history books: it has the immediacy of some of the best slave narratives, with a much broader view of the whole than any one slave's experience. Through the differences between James and Terence, or Caesar's experience of Virginia and Randall Island, or Cora's journey, it shows the way its conventions varied from state to state, or from master to master, and therefore the ultimate cruelty of traumatic disorientation, never knowing what to expect, as slaves were sold from one plantation to another, since there were no restraints on just how viciously an owner might punish or even torture a slave for how slight a transgression.What might be acceptable in one place isn't in another.

It shows how the patterns of daily abuse or ordinarily benign neglect affected the ways that slaves treated one another, or the extent to which they could develop their individual character and apply their intelligence. It shows the cruelty of the false hopes raised by those masters pretending to “humane” treatment, through promises of manumission extended as a calculated tool to secure loyalty when an owner took the risk of educating a slave for office work, for example; or the deceitful “kindness” used to secure compliance of seemingly freed slaves, in perpetuating programs of sterilization, medical experimentation, and of course cheap labor. Cora, especially, captures the anguish, effort and risk of owning one’s own soul when every other part of a person can be violated or annihilated at any moment.

The novel conveys the white fear too, the terror of being outnumbered, of a violent revolt (exactly why we ended up with the 2nd Amendment) but even more, the threat to the social order posed by a black who can read. And the author shows how slavery debased many whites as well, like Ridgeway or Fiona or all the spectators who watched hangings of runaways or rescuers almost as a sport.

So this book didn't give me new information but something more important: it helped me FEEL the impact, not just as pathos, but as a living reality. It helped me understand too how much the fear that black citizens live with today carries the weight of their past in slavery. I think Whitehead was hoping to move us the way Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel moved people of her day, to look around at our society today and recognize the human tragedy that racism is, for blacks and whites alike.


Posted Nov. 05, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
clapshot

Join Date: 11/05/16

Posts: 3

RE: Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

Oh, no. I understand how Whitehead depicts slavery for the reader, and I appreciate it. Generally, Whitehead allows the reader inside the mind of Cora as she runs and attempts to understand her situation. But to truly understand slavery??? How could I possibly!! It's too horrible for my (white) imagination. What is even more difficult for me to understand is the psychology of the slavers and the slave catchers.


Posted Nov. 05, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
celiaarnaud

Join Date: 04/18/12

Posts: 35

RE: Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

Clapshot, that's much what I was thinking. I think I had a reasonably good academic understanding of what slavery is like. But I could never really understand it myself. And that's simply because I'm coming from a completely different place. I've never faced the same dangers that folks face in this book or that people face today from our legacy of slavery. But as much as I can't truly understand the horrors of slavery from the African-American perspective, neither can I understand thinking of other people as sub-human. In some ways, I think I can come closest to truly understanding someone like Ethel. I think she wanted to do good, but I think she was also terrified of what could happen (and it turned out she was right). It's rather humbling to realize this, but I think if I were living through the times in this book in the South, I would probably have been most like her--just trying to keep my head down.


Posted Nov. 11, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
B.B. Toady

Join Date: 10/27/16

Posts: 2

RE: Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

Not particularly, as I have read several book on the subject, but it was a good experience to see things through Cora, as there was several times when I was reminded of how tragic it was to live like you are inhuman.


Posted Nov. 23, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
marganna

Join Date: 10/14/11

Posts: 111

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RE: Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

No - I've read & watched & was raised in the south. I don't think this story gives me a better understanding of what slavery was like. It reinforced my belief that although most people are kind & wish for good, there are others out there who are evil.


Posted Nov. 24, 2016 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
pamelah

Join Date: 05/19/11

Posts: 24

RE: Do you feel that you now have a better understanding of what slavery was like?

I think this book heightened my appreciation for the multifaceted fear, and uncertainty that slaves must have felt. The uncertainty of how one would be treated by a white owner, coupled with the uncertainty of not being able to trust some of your fellow slaves was well conveyed by the author.


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