All 6 entries tagged Hari Mackinnon;

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November 10, 2013

Black and White Mixes in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

One of the most surprising things about Uncle Tom’s cabin for me was the way that mixed race people were described and treated. Firstly I had no idea mixes were as common as they appeared to be in the novel, and I certainly had not idea that successive generations of mixing regularly took place – even to the point where George and Eliza can pass as white when travelling.

Obviously these mixes aren’t the product of star-crossed love but rape incidents of masters raping slave girls. It was also interesting and unsettling that, as Stowe notes towards the end of the book, one of the reasons for this process of mixing was that as slave girls became increasingly mixed (when “quadroons” for example, began to appear) they became even more attractive to potential white masters (who are pretty sickeningly described as “connoisseurs” in the closing chapter.)

It’d be interesting to know how common ‘light-skinned’ slaves were, and if this affected the social dynamics of slave communities themselves (George marries the equally light skinned Eliza) and indeed if lighter skinned slaves were treated differently by white masters. Did their lighter skin afford them any privileges or did masters tend to think of them as an embarrassment, if slaves were thought of in the same terms as beasts of burden – as Legree pretty explicitly says – raping one would surely dent the reputation of an aristocratic land owner. Or perhaps being a mix is treated as irrelevant, the one-drop rule again, after all George and Eliza’s racial position isn’t specified until about half way through the book.


October 26, 2013

Was the Utopian Project a Failure?

One of the strange and interesting things about Hawthorne’s novel was his choice of having the action play out against the backdrop of a self-sufficient, utopian commune. At first glance it would appear that the commune is a failure – all of the named characters that were part of the commune end up leaving, and at the end of the novel Coverdale reflecting that its failure was “well deserved, for [its] infidelity to its own higher spirit.”

What I find strange here is that we see no others, bar the central four, leave the commune for any reason. And the reasons for the protagonists leaving aren’t at all to do with the daily labour of running the commune, or with its place in the larger economic system of the country (its exact Geographical location is unspecified though). In fact every indication of the commune we see suggests that it is successful, visitors regularly come to watch the workers, and it us thought fondly of by those living in villages nearby. The only people who dislike it, Coverdale tells us, are other farmers, who pale in comparison.

So why the bleakness at the novel’s conclusion? Well the obvious answer is, Coverdale is depressed. It’s kind of a subtle thing but I think it’s really interesting to see a representation of that weird phenomena. It’s difficult to take an objective, big-picture look at the world around you, particularly the institutions and communities you are an intimate part of, without having your subjectivity influenced by various personal events in your own life. Good or bad. If you’ve just broken up with your girlfriend it’s easy to think that the NHS sucks, top to bottom. If you’ve just been offered a job it’s easier to remember how superior the heal system is to many other countries globally, and to remember times when you or your family have been treated very well. How do you deal with this? Is it enough just to be aware that it happens?


October 19, 2013

Treatment of Slaves as Status Statements

One of the most interesting aspects of Douglass’s narratives was the way that white slave owners used their relations with slaves as a method of projecting status, and how these differed from region to region. Contrasting the Southern slave owners who wish slaves to project frightened, deferential attitudes to their masters, and Northern slave owners whose reputation rides on whether or not their slaves are fed adequately.

Another interesting facet of this is how it filtered down into the communities of the slaves themselves. Douglass talks of how slaves vigorously defended their masters as being superior (morally, economically and in terms of their education) to the masters of other slaves – but when talking with other slaves of the same master, decrying their treatment. It’s strange how the language of status differentiation trickled down from white masters to black slaves – it would also be interesting to see if there was perceived superiority in slave communities between different roles (house slaves/field slaves etc.)


October 12, 2013

Subjectivity, Realism and Religion

The most obvious major theme in Wieland is objective reality vs. subjective perception. Over the course of the novel we see a number of mysteries and supernatural phenomena, but by the end they are all discovered to have concrete, material explanations, even slightly implausible ones like Carwin’s crazy ventriloquism talents (saying that Clara’s father’s spontaneous combustion is an obvious exception). It seems that for Brown there is an objective true reality out there – it may not be the one that we perceive but it does exist. It can, and should, be engaged with.


Theodore and his father view the world through a distorted, fanatical lens, and Brown makes no attempt to present their viewpoints as anything other than incorrect. This is interesting given that we don’t see a denouncement of religion as a concept in Wieland. Clara is explicitly religious, she’s concerned for her own chastity and she considers the fate of her soul after death. These don’t ever really seem to be treated critically – only Clara’s considering the possibility of heavenly and demonic voices is debunked by Carwin’s confession – so is Brown saying religiosity is good if you don’t take it too seriously/far?


Also interesting here is that we never really see religion enacted externally by anyone. We never see anybody praying – apart from when Clara’s father prays at his temple to his (invented?) god – nobody goes to church, nobody gives anyone religious lessons or rants until the final quarter of the book. In fact Theodore’s fanaticism comes pretty out of the blue. Everybody is personally religious but it doesn’t seem to tie them together in any real way – similar to Crevecoeur’s writings from week 1.


October 05, 2013

Mixing and assimilating – First Nations

I guess the biggest thing that struck me about all three accounts was that Whites being brought and assimilated into Native American communities was even a thing that happened. I think in all three accounts soldiers marrying Indian women are mentioned in passing, also obviously in Jemison’s book we see children being captured and raised. I really had no idea that this sort of cross-flow happened on any level let alone how common a thing it was. I also wonder if the reverse happened, if Native Americans were ever either captured or went to work as full time translators and became relatively assimilated into the colonist’s culture. Or if there was more movement one way than another.


Individuation in the time of Revolt

I find the way that religion is treated in the Crevecoeur reading pretty interesting. One of the characteristics Crevecoeur attributes to the New-American is “religious indifference”, describing in some detail how dispersal of the population tempers the zeal of religious people. The Catholic and the Lutheran can get along because neither is surrounded by an echo chamber of like-minded believers, reinforcing their points of difference. One’s spiritual character in the new America is “only guessed at, and is nobody’s business.” Quite apart from whether or not this actually happened in practice, what I find strange here is that Crevecoeur presents this an ideal paradigm for religious belief within a nation. He doesn’t bemoan or even consider the loss of culture and, more importantly, community that one would think might result. What Crevecoeur means here, I suspect, is more along the lines of “Don’t worry guys! America’s great! There isn’t any religious persecution here!” But I feel like if I were religious, the idea that a strong set of beliefs practiced in a social space would inevitably lead to intolerance and conflict would be a very unattractive one. Crevecoeur’s ideal is that religiosity exists solely in the private thoughts of an individual – but doesn’t that seem like missing the point?


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