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A neo-slave narrative Essay

Often, man resorts to story-telling as a way of reconciling with a formidable incident in the past. By re-telling the story to another party, he comes to accept that this is a reality to be faced. He realizes that acceptance, rather than denial, is the best way of going about this trouble. Aside from the rehabilitating ability of story-telling with its contributory effect in dealing with a painful memory, others simply do this as a way of remembering.

Concretizing the past as a piece of literature would ensure that the incident would not just be buried in the recesses of the memory; that it would be kept alive and the pains and suffering would not be without significance. In this light, it would come clear for readers how and why the proliferation and the presence of slave narratives came about. One may think that with the end of the painful era of slavery, all dialogues and discussion about the subject would also desist. For the African-American slaves and their descendants, this was not the case.

The words of Robert Crossley of the University of Massachusetts rerated the thought: “First-person American slave narratives should have ceased being written when the last American citizen born into institutionalized slavery died. But the literary form has persisted, just as the legacy of slavery has persisted, into the present. ” To be more specific, the birth and popularization of the slave narratives started in the nineteenth century. James Olney stated that each narrative “a unique production” as an autobiography, and “is not every autobiography the unique tale, uniquely told, of a unique life?

Therefore, the uniqueness of each narrative from the others is a trait of this genre, as it narrates the experiences of the writers which are unique to another’s. However, certain characteristics are evidently similar in the work to be considered a part of the genre. For one thing, it has to tell the story of a black slave’s struggle for literacy and freedom, while testifying against the “peculiar institution/’ which in practice meant human bondage and humiliation (Gates, “Introduction” ix).

By the second half of the twentieth century, a sub-genre of the slave narrative has arisen; called the “neo-slave narrative,” it is a fictional mutation of the slave narratives of nineteenth-century Americans (Crossley). This sub-set of the slave narrative genre is very similar with its umbrella genre in the sense that it presents personal accounts of slavery. However, the difference lies in the choice of the author to fictionalize existing accounts, and not his own personal experiences.

The authors base the structure of their fictional work on the oral histories and existing slave narratives to make sure that the story would still echo true events in the historical sense. The birth of this sub-set of the slave narrative genre may be attributed to the void that it fills, or attempts to fill. Anita Wholuba in her paper said that the chasm which is attempted to be explored and filled is the ironic presence of silence in slave narratives, despite of the voice earned by the slave narrative writers.

Wholuba said that “while a significant number of scholars have established that certain silences exist in the traditional narrative of history, neo-slave narrative authors have committed themselves to the task of identifying and sounding those silences where the representation of the American slavery era is concerned. ” A novel titled Kindred, penned by Octavia Butler, is among the body of neo-slave narratives published in the last century. It was published in the year 1979, and speaks of an African-American woman’s sojourns to the past.

The character Dana, lives in contemporary California, but is transported back in time to the antebellum South. In her involuntary travels to the past, she understands how difficult the situation for people before her ancestors actually was. As I was reading Kindred, I had the initial impression that it was just to be appreciated for its science fiction values. Although the science element in this novel was not so much as it was felt in other novels from the same genre, her meshing of science fiction and history was an innovation that should be noted and lauded.

In any case, what caught my attention more was the similarity Kindred has with other novels we have read subsequently in the class, which were the Narrative of the Life of Frederic Douglass, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Up from Slavery. Evidently, there were characteristics of a slave narrative in the novel Kindred. However, the text didn’t meet the five criteria for it to be called a slave narrative, the genre which the other works fell under.

As Kindred is a work of fiction, it would naturally be categorized as a neo slave narrative, a concept I came to be familiar with after research. Kindred as a neo-slave narrative With the plot and simple and direct language employed by Butler, Kindred could not be missed as a neo-slave narrative. Characters that are actual African-American slaves and Caucasian American masters and violence inflicted on slaves are presented in the novel. On a deeper sense, on the other hand, the novel follows the same pattern present in other slave narratives.

Wholuba in the same paper added that although the text refers to other slave narratives such as the work written by Douglass’, in an effort to explore existing themes, the novel still manages to introduce new themes. The new themes that this novel presented, according to Wholuba still, include a more blunt “analysis and depiction of the slave’s struggle for sexual autonomy, the experience of middle passage, and the concept of memory. ” As was mentioned, the novel Kindred follows the typical pattern for a slave narrative, and this will be the thesis of the paper.

It will attempt to discuss and prove the characteristics of a slave narrative present in Butler’s popular piece of art. Another writer mentioned some of the other patterns commonly found in neo-slave narratives. Lysik mentioned in her essay that neo-slave narratives portrayed the “vital slave culture” in a positive light as it could serve as a means of surviving the brutal reality they are subjected to (Lysik). What this implicates is that the writers of the neo-slave narratives provide a new perspective in terms of viewing the arduous tasks and obligations slaves have to fulfill.

Most authors show how slaves then turn this otherwise appalling condition to something that they could actually seek refuge in. First and foremost, the novel carried a prefatory statement by a person from Caucasian American race attesting to the authenticity of the author. The second criterion which has to be satisfied is the movement from slavery to freedom. Kindred has been classified under slave narratives by critics as leans toward the freedom narrative category. This concept will be further discussed in the following paragraphs.

Aside from this, the most obvious criterion which the novel has to satisfy is that the story should portray the physical, emotional, and spiritual deprivation of slavery. Kindred, undeniably, does not fall short on this end. As the journey through time and space allows Dana to witness the events during the period of slavery firsthand, the novel is rich with narration regarding the struggles of the African-American slaves. Through Dana’s experiences, the tales of the different forms of deprivation and coercion were regaled to the readers.

James and his contemporaries talked of this in a paper, saying that many forms of violence and intimidation were observed to be used to maintain white dominance in the slave economy through the eyes of the character of Dana. These “preservation” measures, so to speak, included the sexual violence against black women that was common during slavery, the assault on black families, the difficult choices that black people were compelled to make in acts of love, survival, and resistance, and the outcomes of internalized oppression (James, et. al).

A specific scene in the novel would be that time when Dana personally witnessed the beating of a slave. The slave was hunted by white patrollers because of a crime that would seem absurd for people of the modern times: the slave was found spending time with his wife in their own bedroom without the slave master’s permission. The following text is lifted from the novel: I could literally smell his sweat, hear every ragged breath, every cry, every cut of the whip. I could see his body jerking, convulsing, straining against the rope as his screaming went on and on.

My stomach heaved, and I had to force myself to stay where I was and keep quiet. Why didn’t they stop! “Please, Master,” the man begged. “For Godsake, Master, please …” I shut my eyes and tensed my muscles against an urge to vomit. I had seen people beaten on television and in the movies. I had seen the tored blood substitute streaked across their backs and heard their well-rehearsed screams. But I hadn’t lain nearby and smelled their sweat or heard them pleading and praying, shamed before their families and themselves. I was probably less prepared for the reality than the child crying not far from me.

(p. 36) What made the scene worse than it was already is the fact that the daughter of the slave was also witnessing what was happening. She was situated a few yards away from Dana, but as the character said, “I was probably less prepared for the reality than the child crying not far from me,” we can surmise that the child could better deal with the situation than Dana for this was not a phenomenon for her any longer. It had become part of her reality that it is possible for her father to be punished for doing something, however trivial it may be, which is against their master’s will.

The horror of the situation in antebellum South of America then was clearly depicted in this specific scene. Dana’s reaction to what she witnessed represents the reactions of her fellow African-Americans and of people from different nations who oppose such inhumane violent inflictions. As Butler effectively mixed fiction and narrative in this novel, the outcome of the story-telling was as much effective as it was sincere. Another trait that must be found in the text is the element of a triggering event that pushes the slave to escape to be considered a neo-slave narrative.

For this particular novel, there were many instances which depicted this. The many times when the protagonist Dana feels the need to escape can be included here. However, what would be the more fitting example here is Alice, the woman who was going to give birth to Dana’s ancestor. Being a slave who was forced to bear and mother a ruthless master’s children, she was a character who was forced to the point of brokenness of the spirit. At some point, readers will also see her desperation because of the situation. There was a time, however when Alice was determined to run away with her husband, Isaac.

What triggered this was the series of beatings she had to go through and the physical assault made by Rufus on her, “when Rufus who has torn Alice’s dress and raped her,” (Butler, 117). Isaac beat their master to death because of this event, but because of Dana’s pleas, decided to stop and run away with Alice. However, their escape was to no avail. They were eventually recaptured, which led to more unacceptable punishment for them from the patrollers. Isaac’s ears were cut off and he was sold to another family. Alice on the other hand, had to survive attacks by hunting dogs.

While the desire for escape was a theme discussed many times in the text, it must also be noted that success did not always come with it. Isaac and Alice were not the only characters who had to endure unsuccessful escapes. Two other women characters in the novel were recaptured and were subjected to more physical abuse when they attempted to leave. According to Wholuba, these failed attempts are important as they reveal to readers how the slaves had to find other ways to resist or survive, when liberation is impossible for them to attain. Despite of this, there was one character who was able to manage a successful escape.

Though she had lost her arm in the process of going back to the real world she belonged in, she was able to acquire freedom from Rufus nonetheless. As another trait of slave narratives is that there is a situation which depicts liberation, or escaping to freedom, which is often followed by a renaming. In Dana’s case, changing her name did not transpire after the escape. The shift that took place in this context was the shift in her attitudes and understanding. Her character can be actually accused of being too oblivious to the events in her people’s past, which can only be a good thing to an extent.

She is married to Kevin, a white American, who may also be guilty of the same thing. The blissful marriage between the two despite their racial differences should not be the main point of discussion; whereas, it should be set on the seemingly it-happened-so-long-ago-it-should-not-affect-us-anymore attitude of the interracial couple. However, after her numerous trips back to antebellum Maryland, she was forced to open her eyes and mind to what her ancestors had to go through. The situations had forced her to remember, to understand from the viewpoint of a slave who endured the slavery period.

With this, she was able to connect what used to be different for her: her current life as a modern woman engaged in an interracial relationship, and the history and experiences of her ancestors. Looking at it, the couple Dana and Kevin may be representing the African-Americans in the modern times, who do not look back anymore at what happened in the past. This novel then, may serve as a reminder for them that the past should not be forgotten, but rather should be immortalized for the lessons that have been begotten from it. Impact of the novel

Clearly, Butler was able to evoke positive reactions and was actually able to initiate change on the part of her readers. The most palpable change that she was able to make is to remind her fellow African-American readers of their past and have a change of heart and attitude toward their past. Crossley also observed this change that Butler facilitated with this novel. According to him, Butler “has deployed the genre’s conventions to tell stories with a political and sociological edge to them, stories that speak to issues, feelings, and historical truths arising out of African-American experience. ”

As I have mentioned in the preceding paragraph, she makes the readers understand that the past should not be forgotten because of the pains that it may rekindle. The novel reinforces that remembering the past would not the allow struggles of their ancestors to be left to disintegrate in vain. The purpose that their sufferings serve would be kept alive, and that is to comprehend the mistakes of the past to prevent any similar event to happen again. Another interesting point that Crossley raised in his essay was that Butler, through the novel Kindred, was able to reveal the connection between history and the current diseases of the society.

She boldly exposed different forms of chauvinism and explained how these are “enriched by a historical consciousness that shapes the depiction of enslavement both in the real past and in imaginary pasts and futures, and enact struggles for personal freedom and cultural pluralism,” (Crossle). In conclusion, Kindred is a novel that goes beyond satisfying the extrinsic values of a science fiction novel. The words expressed by James and his fellow authors can best summarize what the novel does to a reader: “Readers can recognize many parallels in

our own search for truth about this painful history, and we are moved to consider: how powerfully and inextricably we are bound to the lives of our ancestors; how racism, denial, myth-making, and racial stereotypes have influenced our understanding of our cultural heritage; how the past shapes our present reality; how revisiting a painful past can lead toward healing; and how we can best use our historical memory to move forward (James, et. al)”. Summary: Neo-slave narratives, which is a sub-genre of the slave narrative, proliferated by the second half of the twentieth century.

The neo-slave narrative genre is very similar with its umbrella genre, which is the slave narrative, in the sense that it presents personal accounts of slavery. However, the difference lies in the choice of the author to fictionalize existing accounts, and not his own personal experiences. The authors base the structure of their fictional work on the oral histories and existing slave narratives to make sure that the story would still echo true events in the historical sense. A novel titled Kindred, penned by Octavia Butler, is among the body of neo-slave narratives published in the last century.

It was published in the year 1979, and speaks of an African-American woman’s sojourns to the past. Evidently, there were characteristics of a slave narrative in the novel Kindred. However, the text didn’t meet the five criteria for it to be called a slave narrative, the genre which the other works fell under. As Kindred is a work of fiction, it would naturally be categorized as a neo slave narrative, a concept I came to be familiar with after research. With the plot and simple and direct language employed by Butler, Kindred could not be missed as a neo-slave narrative.

Characters that are actual African-American slaves and Caucasian American masters and violence inflicted on slaves are presented in the novel. On a deeper sense, on the other hand, the novel follows the same pattern present in other slave narratives. As was mentioned, the novel Kindred follows the typical pattern for a slave narrative, and this will be the thesis of the paper. It will attempt to discuss and prove the characteristics of a slave narrative present in Butler’s popular piece of art. First and foremost, the novel carried a prefatory statement by a person from Caucasian American race attesting to the authenticity of the author.

The second criterion which has to be satisfied is the movement from slavery to freedom. Kindred has been classified under slave narratives by critics as leans toward the freedom narrative category. Aside from this, the most obvious criterion which the novel has to satisfy is that the story should portray the physical, emotional, and spiritual deprivation of slavery. Kindred, undeniably, does not fall short on this end. As the journey through time and space allows Dana to witness the events during the period of slavery firsthand, the novel is rich with narration regarding the struggles of the African-American slaves.

Through Dana’s experiences, the tales of the different forms of deprivation and coercion were regaled to the readers. Another trait that must be found in the text is the element of a triggering event that pushes the slave to escape to be considered a neo-slave narrative. For this particular novel, there were many instances which depicted this. The many times when the protagonist Dana feels the need to escape can be included here. Aside from this, another trait of slave narratives is that there is a situation which depicts liberation, or escaping to freedom, which is often followed by a renaming, was also present in the novel.

In Dana’s case, changing her name did not transpire after the escape. The shift that took place in this context was the shift in her attitudes and understanding. In conclusion, Kindred is a novel that goes beyond satisfying the extrinsic values of a science fiction novel. More importantly, Butler was able to evoke positive reactions and was actually able to initiate change on the part of her readers. The most palpable change that she was able to make is to remind her fellow African-American readers of their past and have a change of heart and attitude toward their past.


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