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Mary Prince, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave (1831)

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Overview

Slave-beaten

Slave being punished by his master.

Emotional Sympathy Edit

Throughout the narrative, Prince compels her reader's emotions to gather sympathy for herself as well as other slaves. Prince's scene of Hetty's death is one example of a powerful scene created to weigh heavily on the audience's emotions. "...ordered the poor creature to be stripped quite naked, not withstanding her pregnancy, and to be tied up to a tree...He then flogged her as hard as he could lick...till she was all over streaming with blood...Her shrieks were terrible...poor Hetty was brought to bed before her time, and was delivered after severe labour of a dead child...she lay on a mat in the kitchen, till the water burst out of her body and she died." (Prince 241)

Hetty's death reflects the pure horror taking place on these plantations. Prince's experiences with masters like Capt. and Mrs. must have been horrific to relive through her writings, but Prince saw the necessity of their inclusion for the sake of abolition. Prince began this particular passage with her close personal connection to Hetty by informing readers that she called Hetty her Aunt. Just as the audience begins to think Mary has found someone to replace her lost family, they realize that Hetty is tragically murdered by her owner. Prince crushed the opportunity of hope in her accounting of the cruelty of her masters and the system of slavery. By describing her masters' cruelties and presenting them as loveless monsters, Prince was able to increase sympathies for slaves, and more directly, her.

"Nothing could touch his hard heart--neither sighs, nor tears, nor prayers, nor streaming blood: he was deaf to our cries, and careless of our sufferings." (24

In this quick description of the brutal Mr. D--, the audience is again reminded of the "common usage of slaves" on plantations. Prince needed to lower readers' opinions of the white masters so that they would not feel remorse for them. They needed to realize that these white men, who were considered more capable than black men, were devoid of love and compassion. It was imperative that society see the masters as the monsters slavery had made them in order to change the system.

Through her description of pain, suffering, and violence, Prince captivates her audience and urges them to correct the inhumanity of slavery.

Rebellion and Triumph

By incorporating themes of rebellion and triumph, Prince demonstrated her willingness to fight the institution of slavery. This scene involving Capt. portrays her own personal triumph as well as her rebellious comments. "I then took courage and said that I could stand the floggings no longer; that I was weary of my life, and therefore I had run away to my mother; but mothers could only weep and mourn over their children, they could not save them from cruel masters--from the whip, the rope, and the cow-skin. He told me to hold my tongue and go about my work, or he would find a way to settle me. He did not, however, flog me that day." (243)

Prince most importantly established her humanity by stating her desire to die rather than withstand another beating. She reminds the reader that she has a mother who will mourn her punishments and death but is helpless to stop them. Mary Prince wanted the world to know that she, like her fellow slaves, willing to lay down their lives for the sake of freedom. Her fire to fight provided the warmth of hope she needed to survive the violently harsh conditions of slavery and to participate in the abolition movement once she escaped. Prince's dedication to her enslaved brethren is validated through her active fight for justice as seen in her narrative.

Prince's own personal triumph came when her words gave pause to her master's actions. Perhaps this was the first time she realized how important her voice could be. The reader catches a glimpse of hope in Mary's future. As readers progress through the scene of Mary's outburst to the Capt., they can't help but recall previous situations where his wrath was poured for lesser offenses. That pain never flourishes, however, because Capt. only warns her "but did not flog her that day." (243) The hope Prince gained that day overflowed to encompass all slaves and propelled her to become a persuasive sword in the fight for freedom.

Relevance to Romanticism and Revolution Edit

When studying the writing of Mary Prince, readers will discover that the themes of Rebellion and Triumph relate directly to the period of Romanticism and to the emotions of Revolution that were being felt around the world during that time. The French Revolution brought forth challenges to the ideas and institutions that were in place. The institution of slavery being the one questioned in this particular writing. This spirit of revolution flowed across the seas causing a large rebellion in Haiti. The rebellions in turn brought greater courage, and more challengers began to speak out against the slave trade and slavery itself. Slave narratives like Mary Prince's and Olaudah Equiano's raised the awareness in England, which had the largest slave trade enterprise. These voices through writing assisted in the creation of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

By pushing the white audience out of their comfort zone, the real problem at hand, the institution of slavery, and not just harshness of certain masters, came into the light. Narratives such as Mary Prince's proved that black men and women were as worthy of respect and sympathy as a person of lighter skin. Prince showed the world that she, too, was capable of contributing to society other than in the capacity of another man's slave. Her brutal honesty forced readers to face the reality of plantation life. Prince required readers to weigh the value of a human life under another man's abuse. Was the cost of a person's freedom worth the goods that were produced under enslavement? Was it morally appropriate to view another human as a piece of property?

Prince's emotional account of bloody floggings and unfair treatment display the epitome of Romanticism. The account correctly portrays her as a heroine of her time. The sympathies she invoked for the abolition movement were priceless in its success. Prince brought the reality of plantation life to the streets of London where her words could make a difference. The spirit of rebellion swept the emotions of those who had the power and wealth to make a change in the status quo. Prince was able to convey the emotions of an entire race through the account of her life.

A similar text that helps us understand the true conditions of this time is "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano" by Olaudah Equiano. Equiano was also a slave who eventually bought his freedom through his ingenious ways of business. The similarity lies in the themes of cruel violence and enslavement. Their desire to be free provided a common goal for both authors. The disregard for human welfare and inalienable rights based upon the color of skin contributed to the sympathies gathered among readers for the end of slavery.

"I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands and laid me across, I think, the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely." (Equiano 232)

This excerpt from Equiano's account takes place on a slave ship where he and many others being transported like cattle to the next destination. They are beaten and whipped like livestock for being obstinate and refusing to eat. The desire for death to relieve him of his predicament can be equally compared to Prince's wish as opposed to receiving another flogging. Both narratives present the true brutishness of the slave trade and its later outcome on the plantation. Their extremity forces a response from those who are privy to its harsh reality. Both narratives played a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery by spreading awareness throughout London.

Sources & Relevant Links Edit

Equiano, Olaudah. "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano." The Longman Anthology: British Literature: The Romatics and Their Contemporaries. Eds. David Damrosch. Kevin J.H. Dettmar.-- 5th Edition. 230-239. Print.

Prince, Mary. "The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave." The Longman Anthology: British Literature: The Romatics and Their Contemporaries. Eds. David Damrosch. Kevin J.H. Dettmar.-- 5th Edition. 239-244. Print.

http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/prince/summary.html

http://abolition.e2bn.org/people_37.html

http://www.landofthebrave.info/slave-plantations.htm

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