Slavery Essay, Research Paper
In the Western hemisphere, slavery is a form of human exploitation that was evident from the middle of the fifteenth century. In fact, slavery was a conventional practice during the early days of the Roman Empire as the Greeks were often enslaved. During the late eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century, slavery was an important and controversial issue in the United States. Inevitably, it played a substantial role in the evolution of the modern world economy as well as produced a legacy of inequality and bitter race relations which remain to be significant problems (Mohawk, 199).
By definition, slavery is a societal institution based on the ownership, dominance, and exploitation of one human by being another human s property. Committed from the depths of the darkest parts of the human sole, numerous accounts of slavery have been documented in literature and adapted onto screen. The reality of slavery is best perceived from the perspective of the slave and as John Little, a fugitive slave who had escaped to Canada, says, Tisn t he who has stood and looked on, that can tell you what slavery is tis he who has endured (Yetmen, 1).
In the midst of the nineteenth century, slaves were used as domestic servants and performed laborious work on plantations in Southern United States. Most of the slaves consisted of Africans who were seized from their native land and then sold into lives of servitude into a foreign land. They often received the fundamentals of life: shelter, food, and clothing. However, even under the best conditions, slavery was brutal and dehumanizing. Slaves lived in terrible housing conditions and were forced to work long hours. The children of slave women were likely to continue to live as slaves as they were often sold to other slave owners. Slaves were not only severely beaten, whipped, or tortured, but slave women also experienced sexual exploitations and were threatened or raped by their masters. Essentially, slavery was about submission based on race.
In Beloved, a movie that is based on a novel by Toni Morrison, director Jonathan Demme catches a rare glimpse into African Americans struggle for survival and happiness in the late 1800s. Beloved is an intensely powerful film about the emotional toll of slavery, the anguish of memory, and the cruel divisions that still sear in the lives of African Americans. Starring Oprah Winfrey as Sethe, Beloved tells the story of this woman s elemental grace and unspoken mystery. She is a runaway slave struggling to carve out a simple existence with her children in rural Ohio. A figure of fierce determination, Sethe is hindered, however, by the painful legacy of her past and the desperate measures to which she is driven to keep herself and her family from returning to it.
As a young black slave, Sethe suffers a great deal of pain and anguish. Her housing conditions are poor and she has to endure long hours of laborious work. Not only is she cruelly beaten and whipped by her slave master, she is also sexually exploited by two white males while she was pregnant with her first child. Driven by her desperation to be free, Sethe, alone and pregnant, makes the journey towards freedom. She is anxious and is willing to do anything to escape slavery. Haunted by the death of one daughter, the departure of two sons, and the rage of the daughter who remains, Sethe is the symbol for the lingering impact of slavery. In her mind, slavery and its effects are worse than the threat of death. However, she is an oak of a woman. Firm, stoic, and straight-ahead, Sethe lives with the aftermath of the horrific act. Determined to never run from another thing on earth, she knows she can t afford remorse, nostalgia, or torment of the memory. As Sethe depicts the individual horrors of slavery, Beloved is ultimately an American survivor s tale which depicts the collective experience of slavery defined by the identity of the African American community in the United States.
In Voices From Slavery, Norman R. Yetman succeeds in focusing upon the former slaves and their collective experience. With minimal editing, Yetman s collection of real slave narratives effectively conveys the feeling of what it was like to be a slave (Yeman, 5). Throughout the different accounts, the reader envisions that the treatment of slaves ran from coercion and brutal dehumanization to the extremely indulgent and benevolent. For example, Robert Falls and Delia Garlic were two unfortunate slaves who had difficult times with their masters, whereas Esther Evans and Anne Ulrich Evans experienced compassion from their owners.
In the case of Falls, he would die fighting rather than be a slave if he had the option to live life over again (Yetman, 116). His slave master whipped him for lying and instead of providing Falls with decent food, his master chose to provide the animals with better food. For Garlic, slavery days was hell (Yetman, 133). She saw infants being taken away from their mothers and sold to speculators. Garlic also witnessed slaves being tightly tied to a tree and the white folks would inhumanely take a long curlin whip and cut de blood every lick (Yetman, 133). At one time, Garlic was tortured by her mistress because she was playing with her baby. The mistress used a hot iron and ran it down Garlic s arm and hand as a form of punishment.
On the other hand, Easter and Evans were two fortunate slaves who had a benevolent relationship with their masters. Easter didn t suffer much from slavery. In fact, she was fanned with the whip only once in a while. When the slaves were freed, Easter decided to stay with her mistress. In the case of Ulrich, she worked in her master s field and spun thread to make cloth. She labored in his field until she was set free, however, she requested to stay with her owner. Through Easter and Evans, the reader understands that some slaves were chose to stay with their masters as they were satisfied with their living conditions.
Beloved and Voices From Slavery demonstrate that slavery continues to be an inevitable and vital part of the American consciousness today. Slavery as an institution was a part of the American culture as a whole until the civil war. As a result, its repercussions on race relations are still evident in modern society. The stories in both productions are told in the present, referring back to different points in the past. These references are interrupted, and jumbled chronologically, reflecting the survivor s inability to dwell in one area for too long. Oftentimes, the slaves have difficulty in articulating their stories as the regression stems from the pain of their memories. As the film and the narratives coil through the past and the present, their collective nature of slavery creates re-memories, which are known to more than one person. Even those who never shared in the experience can envisage its terror.
Both Beloved and Voices From Slavery are enormously influential due to their frightening and accurate representations of slavery. Beloved is a tough and devastatingly sad movie, yet gorgeous and haunting at the same time. As the story unfolds slowly and mysteriously, it creates a mood of impending suspense. Made with love and pain, it is a film that rewards mightily and plays an important role in American history. At the same time, Voices From Slavery powerfully effective due to the genuine voices carried out by each narrator. The convincing and truthful accounts of each slave contribute to the realistic brutality, or even the benevolence, to the acts of slavery. Having seen and read the terrorizing and horrific event, slavery was a tragedy on such a scale that cannot be measured nor quantified. Ultimately, slavery was an act of near genocide and ought never be forgotten or trivialized.