Sunday, 31 August 2014

Review of Uncle Tom's Cabin

There were a vast number of incredibly poetic and astute quotations which I could have chosen from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I decided on the above one because it sums up the hypocrisy many slaveholders employed everyday. The idea of America being a "free" country during this time was laughable, but many masters truly believed that they were born with a right to purchase slaves and treat them in whatever way they saw fit. Obviously, the slaves themselves weren't privileged enough to enjoy this "freedom", but in the eyes of certain masters this did not make America any less free - slaves did not "count" as men in the states in which slavery was permissible.

My recent posts make it clear that at the moment I've been reading a number of slave narratives in preparation for one of my modules I'll be studying as a finalist. This is the only slave narrative out of the four that I've read recently which has not been written from a first hand point of view. I can now see why Uncle Tom's Cabin resulted in such immense popularity when it was published, and believe that it's a fundamental tool in understanding that a number of different approaches to slavery existed.

Unlike many other slave narratives, Uncle Tom's Cabin tracks the progression of the lives of a number of individuals, although Tom's is obviously covered with greater emphasis. Tom initially lived under a kind master and mistress who allowed him to marry a cook named Chloe and live with her and their children in a cottage (or cabin) on their property. Though Tom was technically a slave, he worked as a kind of manager for his master. He was renowned for being one of the most honest and hard working slaves a man could meet. Here, Uncle Tom became acquainted with the bible, and was given his own copy to read from and annotate. Unfortunately, Tom's master got into a great deal of debt. Although Tom and a mother and son called Eliza and Harry were the master and mistresses favourite slaves they were also worth the most. Tom's master was forced to sell the three to cover his debts. Now, I don't want to give too many spoilers about the rest of the novel because the beauty and tragedy of this piece of literature are simply breathtaking. However, I will simply state that Tom suffers and rejoices at the hands of both pleasant Christian masters as well as those who are not so wholesome.

As I've said, this is the first slave narrative I've read that looks at the stories of multiple slaves (it also lets you see where Eliza and Harry end up, and how they get there). It's also the first slave narrative I've read which gives some insight into the different temperaments and thoughts of slave owners. There are several key individuals in this category which are particularly striking. Tom and Eliza's mistress treats Eliza almost as if she is a daughter. She has been educated, clothed well, encouraged in marriage, and instructed in appropriate chores. When Eliza runs away to ensure that her and her son will not be separated, her mistress is glad. She vehemently condemns the sale of Eliza, and would much rather see her own finances plummet than have to give her up to being sold down south. This character alone shows far more empathy for the state of slaves than I've read about in any other slave narrative. Another character which stands out in this light is the foolish but kind-hearted St Clare. He treats his slaves as though they are part of the family, to the extent that the house is a place of (slightly chaotic) sanctuary for the slaves. His daughter Eva is almost the embodiment of Christ in a child. Many of the slaves which they own, especially Tom, see true Christianity in her, which completely contrasts the wild and incorrect notions of Christianity many slave owners used to support their mistreatment of many men, women and children. This idyllic view of the support some slaves receive from their masters is shattered by the tyranny of Marie St Clare and Simon Legree. These two expose the corruption and degradation which many slaveholders insisted upon executing in their household. The contrasting set of characters here highlights a different aspect of slavery which I have never read about in detail. Uncle Tom's Cabin indicates that Christianity is more fundamental to an individual's treatment of slavery than anything else. Although I've previously read about the hypocritical ways in which many masters use Christianity to their advantage, it has never been so clear that one's view of what God is or whether He is real greatly affected one's approach to slave holding.

What did you think?

Steph x

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A Comment Upon Gender in "White Noise" and "Close Range"

In both Don Delillo's White Noise and Annie Proulx's collection of short stories Close Range, gender is perceived as being an objective construct rather than a subjective one. No characters in these texts utterly transgress the gender boundaries between being masculine and feminine. The closest either text comes to exploring this is in Close Range, where several female ranch hands, including Mrs Freeze, embody masculine qualities through their profession. However, Proulx always aligns them on the side femininity by alluding to the inconvenience of their female bodies, or their desire for feminine accessories such as makeup and fashionable clothing. The portrayal of women and men in the texts appears to differ because White Noise is set in a modern, urban environment, whilst Close Range is set in rural, conservative Wyoming.

Firstly, in both texts masculinity is ensconced in violence. In White Noise this is explored most explicitly towards the end of the text, at which point Jack shoots "Mr Gray". This reaffirms the sexist interpretation which Babette makes when she suggests that all men are inherently violent. There is no pragmatic need for Jack to kill Mr Gray: Babette and him are no longer engaging in their "capitalist transactions" as Babette puts it. This indicates that perhaps Babette's claim is correct - men see red and cannot control their need to be violent because their blood courses with male hormones. However, this is an unsavoury view of men as well as an extreme generalisation. It appears more likely that Jack feels the need to reaffirm his masculinity as it has been deconstructed through his wife's adultery. According to stereotypes, a man's ability to fight well to protect himself and his family, and his ability to pleasure a woman are the two key components of his masculinity. By having sex with Jack's wife, Mr Gray has emasculated him to some extent; the shooting may be a result of a subconscious need to prove his masculinity. There are other clear links between men and violence in this text as Heinrich's friend in prison is a man. Delillo's choice of gender for this inmate reaffirms the gender boundaries concerning violence. Moreover, the idea that acting in a bold way can make one more masculine is alluded to with Mercator's desire to sit in the cage of snakes. There is no rational reason for doing this, but he appears to feel the need to conquer death and fear in order to identify himself as a man. Indeed, when he fails, Heinrich loses all respect for him because he has been emasculated.

Similarly, in Close Range, nearly all of the male ranchers are explicitly violent. This is potently explored in Brokeback Mountain where it becomes clear to Ennis that Jack's homosexuality had become known - this was why he was killed with a tire iron to the face. Jack alludes to a similar story at one point. His father had taken him to see a dead rancher named Eddie who has been killed with a tire iron because it had become known that he was a homosexual. The men of Wyoming killed him because of his sexuality in an attempt to reaffirm their own masculinity. According to Freudian theory, often homophobes are the way they are because they recognise an aspect of the homosexuality within themselves and repress it onto somebody else. The violence here appears to have occurred as a result of this. Indeed, Proulx highlights Wyoming's insistence on maintaining a facade of complete masculinity throughout the short stories. In Pair a Spurs, Car's wife cheats on him and, much like Jack in White Noise, he responds violently by shooting at Wrench's truck. Car's wife had had the affair with Wrench. It is interesting that both men responded to their wives' adultery by shooting something. Again, this serves to reconstruct their masculinity: if the gun is understood to be a phallic symbol. then the act of shooting mirrors the act of reproduction. This paradoxically repeats the action which destroyed their masculinity in the first place.

Moreover, in both texts men are defined by lust. In White Noise Jack has several conflicting identities: father, lover, academic. He cannot appear to align them. Lust is a pure, natural emotion: Jack's attempts to control his mind through his academic studies appears to have impacted his lust. Him and Babette read erotic stories to become aroused in bed. Jack appears to therefore find his masculine identity in his academia. It empowers him. However, he continues to be driven by lust. Most descriptions of Babette include an erotically charged physical description and he appears unable to prevent himself from fondling and caressing her. Jack and Babette's sex life is evidently crucial to the construction of his identity, as when he realises that she has been having sex with another man his whole world comes crashing down: he can no longer function as "Jack".

Likewise, in Close Range, lust makes men masculine. The men in this collection of short stories metaphorically become the steamy bulls who impregnate a cow every time they are near one. In The Mud Below, Diamond enacts a cruel rape upon Londa, his rodeo partner's wife, because she insults his size. He claims that this action is like "fucking sandpaper" because her vagina has not created any discharge as a result of the unwanted and unpleasant nature of the sex she is being forced to have. This brutal scene reinforces his masculinity because it shows that he has control. In Close Range it becomes apparent that men need to be in control all of the time for their own masculine security. Moreover, no men are faithful in this text. Proulx portrays them as lust-filled creatures with little or no sense of sexual morality.

Furthermore, in White Noise and Close Range, a gender divide is constructed between men and women as being abusers and the abused. Although this is much more potent in Close Range, it does feature in White Noise. Babette has to have sex in order to receive the medication she wants from Mr Gray. Mr Gray occupies the narrative position of a symbol as he is in a moral gray area - he technically has consensual sex with this women, although it is somewhat contractual. Babette uses the sexual act to obtain Dylar, and in this way is a figure of modern prostitution. Moreover, their sexual transactions are a synecdoche for modern America itself in which women must use their bodies to get what they want or even need. This is an abuse of the female body both by men and they women themselves.

Similarly, in Close Range women are abused both physically and emotionally. In Pair a Spurs Car repeatedly attempts to rape Inez. Fearing for her safety, she seeks protection from her husband who offers her nothing and appears to care more about a dead sheep on the farm. This indicates that men in Wyoming were negligent of women because their lives held less value than cattle. Women must protect themselves, yet still not do anything that will displease men.

Finally, there are some examples of a re-affirmation of femininity and the power associated with that in both texts. In White Noise Babette uses her sexuality to get what she wants. She is powerful enough to retain her husband and stable family life even after having an affair. Moreover, the freedom of marriage and having sex with who one desires in highlighted as Babette and Jack's ex-wives have married multiple times. In Close Range women can become empowered. In The Governors of Wyoming Roany and Renti ridicule Wade Wells, thus emasculating him, and there are no negative consequences. There is also some equality in ranching: if women have the right build they can become as proficient as men. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Review of Monsoon Mists

The juxtaposition of the description of these two places really highlights what's at the heart of Christina Courtenay's Monsoon Mists. I have to say, I loved this book from beginning to end. If you've read any of my recent reviews, you'll know that a lot of what I've been reading has been American fiction from the 19th and 20th Centuries, so this was a perfect refresher. Although I've not read the first two books in the trilogy (I do intend to now however!) I found it incredibly easy to step right in and pick up the storyline. So, if you've not read Trade Winds or Highland Storms, don't worry.

I have to say, I'm not the greatest fan of crime novels. Saying that I do love a bit of Castle, so who knows, maybe crime novels are for me? I initially expected Monsoon Mists to be a pretty standard romance novel, but the incredible skill with which Courtenay writes allowed her to interweave the crime and romance plot threads successfully, to make something that really stuck out to me. I would even go so far as to say that this is the most well written modern novel I've read in months.

So, to give y'all a little taster into the novel, I'm going to give some brief plot details, but (I promise) no spoilers. The novel is centred around our ruggedly handsome protagonist Jamie. With a dark, mysterious past behind him, Jamie seeks to escape Sweden and all it holds for him to venture forth in a new life in India. He becomes a gem stone cutter, a skill which proves both useful and harmful in the novel. Once in India, trouble strikes, and Jamie is forced to undertake a hazardous mission, which will change his life forever - and not only because he meets Zarmina, the beautiful Ice Widow, along the way. 

One reason why I was really struck by this novel was the way in which Courtenay tackled her romantic and sexual scenes. After the birth of Fifty Shades of Grey, many modern writers have taken to dealing with any kind of slightly intimate scene in a graphic and often obscene manner. Courtenay however seemed to get the balance write, creating sensuous and yet touching moments between the lovers in the novel. 

Have you read Monsoon Mists? What did you think?


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Review of The Life of Josiah Henson

I decided to shorten the title of this book in the title above because it's a bit of a mouthful: The Life of Josiah Henson, formerly a Slave, now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. However, the entire title is incredibly important - it highlights the progress Henson made through his bravery and belief in the right of his freedom. Although he did not physically write the book itself (having had that privilege snatched from him by his "masters"), Henson is remembered as a powerful orator and narrated this book to be written word for word from his speech.

The novel begins with Josiah Henson as a child. He was born into slavery and at first sees no other way forward in his life. However, as he grows to reach a pre-pubescent age, he begins to realise that he is physically superior to many of his fellow bondsmen. This offers Henson, or "Siah" as he's known, to gain opportunities which he recognises that others around him do not have. Even though he is able to accomplish tasks with a great level of alacrity he still suffers at the hands of dominant white men. By the time he reaches adulthood he is physically impaired. The beating which did this irreparable damage to him really stuck out to me. He was set upon by a white man and a couple of his slaves. Although strong, Siah could not fight against four men, and was almost beaten to death. He received this because he was perceived to have done something wrong: if this fit and able, incredibly intelligent man was liable to such beatings, then one can only imagine the sufferings of those who couldn't fulfill their tasks as readily. Siah uses his wit and incredible physical abilities to earn money during his time as a slave. I'm NOT going to spoiler this one, as I think it's an incredibly important book to read, but I will just say that his attempts to buy himself freedom do not go exactly to plan ...

So if you've been keeping up with my recent posts, you'll know I reviewed Twelve Years A Slave ( and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave ( Although I felt the style and narrative of The Life of Josiah Henson reminded me a little of Twelve Years a Slave, they obviously still offer an incredibly different viewpoint on the topic of slavery. The biggest lesson which I feel Henson tried to express through his writing is that slaves are no less intelligent than their masters. Henson himself was stripped of all means of education as a child and all contact with the commercial world, however, by adulthood he had enough wit and sense to free himself from captivity successfully and build a safe haven for former slaves. He is largely the reason why the next generation of his family were schooled - he chose the correct way forward at every turn point so that the community had enough money to build a school. Moreover, Henson expresses more potently than the other writers just how great an affinity there was amongst the slaves owned by each master. They were not just holed up together like animals as the masters thought, but had genuine bonds and feelings for one another. 

The utter barbarity of white slave traders was (I think) expressed and felt by Henson more through their words and legal actions than their physical abuse. The tragedy of the plot lies in Henson's attempt to purchase his own freedom. He is thoroughly respected by his master and purchases his freedom, only to find that he has been betrayed in the worst way. The document which declares his freedom has been destroyed, to be replaced with another one which indicates that he owes an insurmountable sum of money in order to become free. At this point it really struck home for me that, no matter how well you performed as a slave, or how much you had done for a master personally, they would rarely (if ever) see an individual as more than a piece of property.

Have any of you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Review of Bartleby the Scrivener

“Happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay; but misery hides aloof, so we deem that misery there is none”

Herman Melville is pretty much a household name in modern America due to his creation of the literary giant Moby Dick. It's time to fess up here: I've never read Moby Dick and probably never will do (I get the whole symbolism behind the concept part, but the idea of reading such a long book about a fisherman and a whale just seems so tedious to me).

Anyhow, back to the book in question. Written in 1853, Bartleby the Scrivener is heralded as one of the best short stories America has to offer. Having said that, when I found this out after reading the book my first question was "why?". As I read it, I was aware that there must be some underlying meaning behind this story as the plot line seemed meaningless (and not in a postmodernist manner either, more in a why-did-you-bother-writing manner). So, feeling ashamed of my lack of guile as an English Lit student, I researched it and found some interesting theories as to what Melville was getting at through the narrative.

However, before I discuss these I want to briefly describe the plot of the book itself. The narrator has two copyists, or scriveners, working for him to help with legal documents. He feels the need to hire a third - this is where Bartleby comes in. The narrator is at once enamoured with Bartleby's elusiveness. He wants to know who this man is and why his behaviour is so off. But, one of the greatest lessons to take from this book is that no one can really understand another person - and that's what the narrator learns from Bartleby.

So now for the theories. Some critics believe that Bartleby is a symbol for people suffering from clinical depression. His sleep and food deprivation are hyperbolic examples of the negative side effects which this disease can have on people. He is incredibly apathetic in all manner of things and cannot seem to find any enjoyment in life. Not only this, but he has closed himself off from all forms of human contact, preferring to live alone and avoiding engaging in any form of social contact. His choice to work behind a makeshift screen reflects the manner in which people suffering from depression often psychically screen themselves off from others in order to lessen anxiety and deal with their issues privately.

However, there are other theories. Perhaps Melville simply wanted us to know that everyone has a story, even if it isn't the most dramatic. Or perhaps Bartleby was simply a figure who offers readers a way to get to know the narrator. What did you think of the figure of Bartleby?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Trends in Chick Lit

Everybody has a guilty pleasure when it comes to reading. For some, it’s fantasy novels, comic strips, or even the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey. For me, it’s the generic chick lit novel: girl is lonely, girl meets unlikely match of a boy, girl and boy fall in love (surprise, surprise). The simple and near-identical structure of these novels appeals to my willingness to remain right in the centre of my literary comfort zone. However, recently it’s come to my attention that this style of book isn’t quite as superficial as it first appears to be.
A few years ago, a large proportion of this genre of literature was centred on female body image. Obesity was a hot topic in the UK and USA at this point as shocking statistics were being poured out over the media concerning the 61% of the population deemed to be within this category (statistics as of the NHS’ report concerning obesity in 2010). At this time, and for a couple of years preceding it, chick lit authors positioned this issue at the forefront of their novels. This encouraged people, especially young women, to love their bodies even if they are technically overweight. This body-beautiful campaign as such was taken up by many authors worldwide, including one of my personal favourites, Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries anyone?). Her range of adult novels includes the Heather Wells mystery series, which tracks the progress of a young woman who has been criticised because of her large size. The books explore the idea that being overweight does not make a person unattractive, or unsuccessful. Thus, they serve to work against the “fat shaming” that goes on in the media: critiques of celebrities gaining a few pounds and the endless advocation of (unhealthy) fad diets in seemingly every magazine with a female target market.
Recently however, as the issue of obesity has become a less pressing issue in the media, chick lit authors have turned their attention elsewhere. Recent figures in mental health statistics have becoming increasingly alarming, to the extent that 1 in every 4 people experiences some form of mental health issue every year; the most common being depression and anxiety disorders. Again, as the media has begun to focus on these issues, so have chick lit authors. The two novels which I have read so far this summer as part of this genre have adhered to this. Both feature mentally unstable female protagonists who have undergone some form of trauma in their lives and thus (unfortunately) need to be rescued by the loving, handsome boy-next-door as it were.
After a hectic period of second year English Lit exams and getting a new kindle for my birthday I really wanted to chill out with a simple chick-flick on holiday. As a student I obviously instantly started scrolling through the reams of (largely awful-looking) free books in this style on Amazon. Coming across "Twenty Eight-and-a-Half Wishes" I didn't expect much and the opening chapters held out to this expectation.
The book is set in a modern Southern style landscape. The protagonist is an anxious 24-year-old girl who finds it hard to feel appropriate emotions towards events. She lost her father at a young age and is controlled by a wicked mother. This Cinderella-esque storyline was waiting for a Prince Charming to arrive, but, akin to most other romantic novels of our era, Joe McAllister is a rugged, mysterious figure. This generic outset initially jars with the magic realism that Rose's visions imbibe the plot with. Her blunt reaction to (not giving any spoilers) certain tragic incidents in the novel heightens this; in my opinion making this protagonist and the book itself too unrealistic.
However, after the disappointment of these first few chapters the novel improves greatly. It develops into a mystery-romance novel rather than a mere romance one, which allows it to offer much more to the reader in terms of plot and interest. Moreover, Rose's visions no longer seem to jar with the main plot, but cohere with it and enhance it, allowing the reader as well as Rose to have a stronger grasp of the mystery at hand than most other characters in the text. Rose’s visions as well as her social anxiety arguably hint at deeper mental issues within her character. However, the fact that the visions save Rose’s life portrays an important message to the reader: mental illnesses do not have to destroy your life. This is something which Rose learns as she develops as a character.
Similarly, Natasha Preston’s first book in her (appropriately named) “Silence” series raises a great number of important issues surrounding the moving issue of childhood sexual abuse. Despite a pretty good (albeit clich├ęd) romantic back story to the plot, the traumatic effects of this type of abuse upon a teenage girl remained the key focus of the novel. Silence follows the story of 15-year-old Oakley who hasn’t uttered a single syllable since the age of 5. Her overwhelming love for her 17-year-old best friend/neighbour/all-round good guy Cole encourages her to consider the impact of her silence on others, including her family. Oakley, her loving parents and sex-obsessed older brother make up the Farrell family unit. But as the novel rapidly makes clear, Oakley’s silence isn’t the only aspect of the family’s problems which doesn’t immediately meet the eye …
Set in England, the social issues which this novel raises really struck home for me. Moreover, with the recent numerous allegations of child sexual abuse by famous men in the media business, the concerns this novel raises are at the heart of heated discussions in the UK: can we really trust our children with anyone? How does this kind of abuse affect the mental health of the victim as they reach puberty and beyond?
I believe that the most important aspect of this novel is the exploration of the ways in which sexual predators transform their victims in order to cover up their horrendous acts against human decency. Oakley has her voice physically and metaphorically removed in a hyperbolic symbolization of the fear in which these victims live.

Once you get past the slightly bad writing that characterises the initial chapters of both the books discussed above, they really do expose some harsh realities about the state of modern life. Women are statistically more likely to suffer from depression than men, which perhaps explains why these authors have chosen for their female protagonists to be portrayed as fragile, imperfect creatures. Perhaps they want to suggest that if you really get to know a person (as the reader does with the narrative voice) everyone is broken. However, there may be a greater issue at hand: are these modern chick lit authors falling into the fallacy of creating almost 19th century female protagonists who can’t survive without swooning into the arms of a life-giving, life-saving man?

Monday, 11 August 2014

Review of "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

“At that time, the slightest manifestation of humanity toward a coloured person was denounced as abolitionism, and that name subjected its bearer to frightful liabilities”

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is his attempt to reveal the injustices of slavery in order to work towards abolitionism. The very existence of this narrative is a testament to his bravery and hard-working spirit.
This text tracks the story of Douglass’ escape from his hellish treatment as a slave. It includes details of all of the various slaveholders who wrongfully imprisoned him in order to shame them. Initially Douglass accepted that he was going to spend his life as a slave, however, the help of a kind mistress sparked his interest in words and education. He soon began to seek help from free white boys in order to develop his understanding of the alphabet and later reading itself. This is eventually what paved his way to freedom. Without this intellectual hope Douglass himself admits that he would have been forced to the despair which many of his fellow men and women in bondage were consumed by. Alongside his attempts to learn however came many great risks: slaveholders feared that if their slaves learnt to read they would become empowered and thus liable to rebel and riot.
If any of you read last week’s review of Twelve Years A Slave ( then you’ll see that I thought that had a different emphasis on the traumatic effects of slavery. Solomon Northup heavily focused on the physical and emotional implications on himself and the people he was held with. In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave however, Douglass’ work is more directed towards exposing the hypocrisy and corruption of American slaveholders who believed in their Christian vocation to slaveholding. Many of the slave holders in the South whom Douglass was unfortunate enough to have to call “master” insisted that they were good Christians. As a result of this, they often quoted scripture whilst whipping their slaves.
This hypocrisy really hit home when I read this text as the recent crises in the Middle East show that people have not yet learnt that religion is not an excuse for persecution. Religion should discourage hatred, prejudice and torture, rather than encourage people to commit it. Frederick Douglass realised that Christianity was often (although not exclusively) a front for this. Him and his fellow bondmen were prohibited from attending Church and learning how to read scripture, to the extent that the Sunday school they created was punishable by death.

What did you think of the text when you read it? 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Review of Silence

Natasha Preston's first book in her "Silence" series (appropriately named) raises a great number of important questions surrounding the moving issue of childhood sexual abuse. Despite a pretty good (albeit cliched) romantic back story to the plot, the writing completely dragged down my overall impression of the book. My kindle edition unfortunately also had quite a number of spelling and grammatical errors and typos. Though this was obviously not a bad feature of the book itself it too detracted from the strikingly good storyline. 
Silence follows the stroy of 15 year old Oakley who hasn't uttered a single syllable since the age of five. Her overwhelming love for her 17 year old best friend-stroke-neighbour-stroke-all round good guy Cole encourages her to consider the impact of her silence on others including her family. Oakley, her loving parents and sex-obsessed brother Jasper make up the Farrell family unit. But as the novel makes clear, Oakley's silence isn't the only aspect of their family's lives which doesn't immediately meet the eye ...
Set in England, the social issues which this novel raises really struck home. Moreover, with the recent numerous allegations of child sexual abuse by men in the medial business, this novel is at the heart of heated discussions in the UK. The most important aspect of this novel, I believe, is the exploration of the ways in which sexual predators transform their victims in order to cover up their horrendous acts against human decency. Oakley has her voice physically taken away as a hyperbolic symbolization of the fear in which these victims live. The question it most potently raises is: how does one grow and adapt to deal with normal life after life-destroying incident like this have taken place?
So, once you get past the somewhat awful writing and the lack of suspense in the novel (the author reveals the nature of the cause of Oakley's silence in the first few chapters), Silence develops into a heart-warming, tension filled novel.

What were your thoughts?

Monday, 4 August 2014

Review of Twelve Years A Slave

"They are deceived who flatter themselves that the ignorant and debased slave has no conception of the magnitude of his wrongs"

Prewarn: i'm not talking about the film (and yes, the film was made from a book). Twelve Years A Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup's descent and recovery from slavery which he narrates himself. This is the most powerful piece of writing, literature or not, that I have ever come across concerning the issue of slavery. As I was reading the text, I began to wonder why we don't read literature as part of history courses which teach students about horrendous periods of history like this one. The emotion contained in this text taught me about the mental and physical trauma which slavery inflicted upon real people, which i had never really come across despite studying it at school.

So, back to the review (SPOILER ALERT). Twelve Years A Slave begins with a contented Solomon Northup living in an American state in which it was permissible to be a free black man. He knew very little about the practicalities of slavery, viewing it as something different to him. Unfortunately for him there are some truly evil people out there. Two such men trick Solomon into travelling with them. After a couple of days they drug him, chain him and proceed to force him to accept that he is a slave. From there Northup recounts his experiences as a slave, being sold like a piece of unworthy chattel, or an animal.

This text was incredibly well written, and as such is a testament to the bravery and intellect of this man. For me, the text reached a state of emotional poignancy when a slave that Northup was kept with was torn from her children. The master had no reason to tear this mother from her little girl, bar his own cruelty. So he sold the girl and kept the mother who weakened more and more out of grief, and because of this suffered more and more from the weight of his lash. This unprovoked spite was, according to Northup, the worst sight he witnessed during the entirety of his confinement. I believe that his incredible writing skill allowed him to express this, ensuring that readers too felt this was the most horrific scene of the book. However, this does not go to say that the other acts of cruelty Northup witnesses were any less inhumane. Northup was stripped of his name, clothes and right to life. He often survived being killed because of his monetary value. When capitalism reaches a crisis like this can we really see it in a positive light?

This text not only raises issues about the idea of race, but also gender. Women were expected to keep up with men, but sadly often mistreated by their mistresses and masters. the latter would frequently seduce them (they could hardly say no to him) and the mistress would punish the woman effectively for being raped or sexually assaulted. This appears to lead to depression in female slaves in the text.

In my opinion, everyone should read this in order to go some way into understand the emotional impact of slavery from someone who experienced themselves. What are your opinions on including literature like this when teaching young adults about the historical impact and implications of slavery?