The Plantation Mistress Essay Research Paper Critical

?The Plantation Mistress Essay, Research Paper Critical Analysis ?The Plantation Mistress? Clinton?s presents the realities of lives of plantation mistresses their activities as wives, mothers and household managers. The most important contribution that Clinton makes, however, is in showing how the institution of slavery affected all aspects of southern women?s lives.

?The Plantation Mistress Essay, Research Paper

Critical Analysis

?The Plantation Mistress?

Clinton?s presents the realities of lives of plantation mistresses their activities as wives, mothers and household managers. The most important contribution that Clinton makes, however, is in showing how the institution of slavery affected all aspects of southern women?s lives. Southern attitudes towards marital fidelity, abortion, and birth control were all conditioned by plantation owner?s need for both heirs (white) and workers (blacks or mostly so). The author warns readers not to replace one myth, that of sexless beauty of purity and pampered idleness, with another ?the contemporary romantic image of buried passion ready to erupt at a moment?s notice. For both myths are equally false.

This book centers on the life of the planter?s wife in the antebellum south (1780- 1835), the author shows that the white mistress was actually more in bondage that the slaves because she literally had no other woman or a community with who to share her experience. The Negroes, in contrast shared a common background going back roots in Africa, their daily work, and local subculture with fellow slaves. Clinton doesn?t avoid controversial subjects exploited in recent fiction about the antebellum era. She does succeed in exposing the romanticized character of the unfaithful white mistress by showing that promiscuity was simply not part of the accepted code of the southern women. Ample quotations from the women themselves give first ? person voice to the text.

Catherine Clinton successfully reveals the truth behind the myth created of the charming belles and courtly balls in the antebellum south. ?In The Plantation Mistress,? the author skillfully reconstructs the realities facing a restricted and repressed class of women who have been historically eulogized by Hollywood and the popular press for over 150 years. The idea is simple: the leisure status of the planter’s lady is a fairy tale told to spruce up the Lost Cause image. “The planter’s wife was in charge not merely of the mansion but the entire spectrum of domestic operations throughout the estate, from food and clothing to the physical and spiritual care of both her white family and her husband’s slaves.”

To comprehend the bondage of upper class whites females in the South one must compare it to the bondage of slaves. It is essential to first determine the basis for that comparison and their positions in society during the antebellum period. It was a complicated situation that offered well-born women wealth and class because of their race, but also oppression because of their gender. At birth, girls became the property of their fathers (mothers had no legal claim to their children). When they married, they became the property of their husbands, and so did any land or valuables they may have owned. Their position placed them in charge of their household that catered to the needs of their white family and their husband?s slaves. They were ?allowed? to carry the keys to the plantation, but those keys only served to keep them locked within their sphere. Similarly with slaves in bondage at birth, ?slaves? became the property of their masters (mothers and fathers had no legal claim to their children). When they married, women became the property of their husband however they both are still the property of the master, and so did any land or valuables they may have owned depending were they lived. Their position placed them in charge of their household that catered to the needs of their white family and their husband?s slaves. They were ?allowed? to walk around the plantation or learn some craft, but those ?liberties? only served to keep them locked within their sphere.

The males of Southern households ruled alone. Although some elite white ladies may have been unaware of their status, or denied it, the fact remained that most of them had no personal identity. As long as white women and slaves remained in their proper places and obeyed their masters, they were treated well. For the South, a Southern woman?s strength was her weakness; coherent with Catherine Clinton?s ideas were that of Angela Davis. In fact the general opinion of that time was that a woman?s only right was to be protected by her lord and master, but if she was strong and independent, her master had the right to abuse her within the law. That firmly echoed a parallel to slavery. “There was no slave, after all, like a wife. It did not, however, suggest that all upper-class men were abusive of their patriarchal position or of the women of their households; it merely pointed out that it was within their rights and prerogatives to have done so.

Other reasons for the Southern ladies to have been discontent were written into their diaries. Only there did many of them dare to proclaim their frustration and anger over male dominance that limited their boundaries.

Relations between men and women in the planter class were similarly paternalistic. Education was given to young women, but no Southern woman had schooling equal to that of a man of her class. Women were not expected to need more of an education because most married at a young age and spent the rest of their lives engaged in domestic work. After marriage, the fear of continued pregnancy gave them cause for worry as many of them died in childbirth. The added responsibility of a large family tightened the hold upon elite white women to their sphere of dependency.

The upper-class southern women was raised and educated to be a wife, mother, and subordinate companion to men. South Carolina?s Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote of her husband, ?H e is master of the house. To hear is to obey?All the comfort of my life depends upon his being in a good humor.?

Women who were plantation mistresses expressed their discontent in the area of slave relationships through their diaries but rarely in open, verbal complaint. Slaves depended upon them for all their needs, and it was a demanding job. Plantation mistresses existed in the gender role that their husbands prescribed to them. For example, their work on a plantation was totally acceptable; in fact it was expected. The master of a plantation wanted his slaves to be dependent upon the mistress, but he also demanded that the mistress be dependent upon him. Running a household was not considered dirty work; therefore it did not tarnish the romantic notion of Southern belles and matrons who were protected from menial public labor. They were expected to be weak and dependent. They were not weak, but they remained dependent, and they resented it. One such woman wrote, “The Negroes are a weight continually pulling us down! Will the time ever come for us to be free of them?” That time arrived with the first shot of the Civil War, when the time for emancipation had begun. The irony of that woman?s lament was that the patriarchs of her society expected women to help defend their right to keep slaves in bondage. By so doing, women remained enslaved as well.

Not all upper class white women in the South lived on a plantation and held slaves, but the fight for slavery affected them all. They all shared the same women?s sphere and were trapped within it because of the South?s tradition paternalism and idealism. However, that idealism was questioned when the lords and masters marched off to war.

“The Plantation Mistress challenges and reinterprets issues related to the Old South. This great book forces us to focus our attention to women lives and how the institution of slavery acted as chains? of enslavement for them in the nineteenth. Ms Clinton believes that women in the antebellum South were generally overworked, often unhealthy, and little freer than their slaves.

The world of the plantation mistress has been subject to a romantic myth. She dispels this by quoting correspondence from women of the time, and summarizing the dilemmas and problems faced by these ladies in the antebellum period. She effectively dispels the notion that women of the Old South led idle, glamorous lives and shows, in eloquent style, the exhausting, often isolated existence they led. I believe this book is a wonderful introduction to the lives of women of the Old South.

In my opinion this is an excellent and eye-opening book about the real lives the southern plantation women led. Far from the life of leisure, women were really prisoners of the southern male system. As stated before the ?romantic view? of the plantation mistress is thoroughly dispelled in this book. The author’s presentation is backed with statistics and correspondence of that period. The author’s style of writing takes you from beginning to end effortlessly in a spellbinding manner

The Plantation Mistress expanded my curiosity to search more thoroughly the intriguing directions pointed out by Ms. Clinton. However, I am positive that the next time I watch Scarlett threaten Miss Ellen’s portieres; I will applaud her tenacity for taking charge of her life instead of thinking ‘the green dress is coming’. The Plantation Mistress in fact convinces me that an energetic, intelligent woman like Scarlett had few options in the old South for achieving any goal except by using subterfuge and manipulation. After reading The Plantation Mistress I want to compliment Scarlett for her determination, instead of slapping her for being a selfish brat.

The only criticism I have on this book is that Catherine Clinton heavily reliance upon single letters and diary entries drawn from different sized plantations in different regions at different times. The size of the plantation and the time period play important roles in these women lives. The bigger the plantation, the more slaves it contained therefore entrapping its mistress even more. Accordingly, at different times women were oppressed more than others. In my opinion by using only these sources, (even with their importance, they only give us a small view to these women lives) she?s not taking into account a wide variety of other sources that are available to her to express her views. But even taken themselves, those documents require a more in-depth reading than Clinton provides.

Reference

Clinton, Catherine. The Plantation Mistress: Woman?s World In The Old South, New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.

Holt, Thomas, and Barkley Brow, Elsa. Major Problems in African History: Volume 1 From Slavery to Freedom, 1619-1877, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000

Norton, Beth. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000

Bibliography

Reference

Clinton, Catherine. The Plantation Mistress: Woman?s World In The Old South, New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.

Holt, Thomas, and Barkley Brow, Elsa. Major Problems in African History: Volume 1 From Slavery to Freedom, 1619-1877, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000

Norton, Beth. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000