Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Categories: Slavery And Freedom

In the "Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill the novel has a underlying statement that Aminata's storytelling dares the upper class and their power. Powerful people in society maintain social hierarchies and restrict the freedoms of the lower class in order to preserve their power. Although Aminata's freedoms are restricted, her storytelling challenges the power of the upper class. Aminata uses storytelling to increase her power in society and fight against the upper class. She uses her words to forward herself in social ranking although she is restricted for being a black African American in the 18th century.

Powerless is a recurring feeling that Aminata feels throughout the book, The upper class has more power in society and Aminata being a black African American in the 18th century automatically puts her into the lower class due to racism and being a woman. Americans would be able to call people of the African descent discriminatory slurs but Africans would have no right to call Americans white as displaying that Americans are more powerful compared to the Africans.

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Aminata gets abused on day to day. Her owners abuse her physically and mentally. The abuse can be shown when her owner rips her clothes off and says "Your clothes he tore them off and threw them down. We have a law  niggers don't dress grand" (Hill, 176).

This shows that Aminata is not allowed to dress how she wants to because she is an African woman. The owner of Aminata, being the upper class in this situation takes Aminata's nice clothing off so she can not dress the same as the other Americans, making her feel like she is powerless to make themselves feel powerful.

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The owner wears nicer clothes then Aminata to feel powerful. Aminata's owner's create situations to show that they have the upper hand over her to prove their power in society. Aminata says "I would sooner die than eat pork" (Hill, 105).

Even though that her owner knows that eating pork is forbidden in Aminata's religion, her owner still gives her pork to eat without any other choice, making her feel less powerful creating his dominance and power. Aminata being a African woman is entitled to nothing more but to feel powerless and being in the lower class of society while the slave owner in the upper class to be dominate and powerful, "Gender contributes significantly to social inequalities. However, the United States is racially organized and hence its class structure is racially designed. White racism, along with class oppression and sexism, pervades the boundaries of the culture" (Wilkinson). thus creating an environment where the white man in the upper class is left with power and to be dominant over the powerless Aminata

The lower class constantly gets put down throughout the novel by the upper class so they can maintain hierarchy, whether it being from racism, a act of dominance or pure hate. Aminata's owners would abuse her due to the fact that she was lower in social status then them and that they had more power then her. The Americans would call Aminata names like "The crazy big mouthed African" (Hill, 175) to say that she is a crazy African and nothing more. Aminata's friend says that "you call a white man white, he beat you black and blue" (Hill, 129). Africans being in the lower class would not be allowed to call a white man "white" because they are not defined as humans in the eyes of people in the 18th century. Enslaving Africans would cause them not to be moved up in society keeping whites hierarchy in place. "White men and women in any social stratum, regardless of education, skills, ideological convictions, ethnic affiliations, gender, or sexual orientation, are aware that American society favors them over all African Americans" (Wilkinson).

The upper class will ensure they stay in that social ranking by constantly putting the lower class down so they have no chance of success, for example "When a college educated African American female data entry clerk wanted to take some college classes, rules were passed stipulating that one could no longer take extensive breaks or enroll in more than one course. This attempt to prohibit a black female from continuing her education is an example of institutionalized racism. And yet, this practice is sanctioned at all levels of the division's administrative hierarchy" (Wilkinson). In this situation the people with power tried to take away the right to learn from the African American female so that she could not become educated and make money. Aminata gets put into the slave trade because the system in the 18th century did not want people from African descent to gain a hierarchy and power.

Aminata's freedoms are restricted almost every step of the way in her journey. Her class, race, and gender make her more vulnerable to these restrictions than anyone else. Aminata feels like she can not do anything in life without her slave owners torturing her. The toubabs command her to do everything so she is no longer making choices herself, "There is no water. No food. No breaks to pee" (Hill, 116). Her freedom was restricted so far so that she could not even go to the washroom without getting permission from the toubabs. Discrimination results in all of Aminata's rights taken away from her, she goes from a happy child dreaming about success to thinking that she is worthless, "I was tied at the hands and yoked by the neck". But i felt no pain at all" (Hill, 22).

Aminata no longer feels the throbbing anymore, she gets beaten every day and is used t the pain now. Restrictions like physical abuse and dehumanization against her make Aminata have little but no freedom. Aminata's freedom being restricted is due to her race and gender, "Devah Pager's experimental research has studied employer perceptions by sending pairs of fake job seekers to apply for real jobs. (5) In each pair, one of the job applicants was randomly assigned a rsum indicating a criminal record (a parole officer is listed as a reference), and the "criminal" applicant was instructed to check the box on the job application indicating he had a criminal record. A criminal record was found to reduce callbacks from prospective employers by around 50 percent, an effect that was larger for African Americans than for whites" (Western).

Although Aminata's freedom's are restricted her storytelling challenges the power of the upper class and provides her the power, strength, and mindset she needs. In the opening chapter, the elder Aminata looks back on her life and shares her story. "The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name and their ears do not yet hear my story. Not the way I want to tell it. But I have long loved the written word, and come to see in it the power of the sleeping lion. This is my name. This is who I am. This is how I got here. In the absence of an audience, I will write down my story so that it waits like a restful beast with lungs breathing and heart beating. " (Hill, 101).

Aminata believes words have power, she has believed that her whole life, ever since her father taught her words in Arabic. She uses her words to tell stories that will make her challenge the power of the upper class. She goes from a slave that was beaten from day to day to a African American meeting the Queen, and having a voice "I have my life to tell, my own private ghost story, and what purpose would there be to this life I have lived, if I could not take this opportunity to relate it? My hand cramps after a while, and sometimes my back or neck aches when I have sat for too long at the table, but this writing business demands little. After the life I have lived, it goes down as easy as sausages and gravy " (Hill, 7).

As she sits alone writing she remembers all the people in her life that have turned to ghosts, she wants to make worth of her life, and wants to write her story down so she can change other peoples lives with it. Her story is what got here to the place she is now. She is able to be with her child freely and able to write her story down. "the stories transformed my everyday life. They sparked my curiosity and provided an escape from a crowded environment" (Pinkney). While Aminata's freedoms were restricted her story was something she always kept with her. Her story is something the upper class can not take away from her, and that's why it's so useful to challenge their power.

In conclusion even when powerful people in society restrict the freedom of the lower class to benefit their hierarchies. Aminata's storytelling challenges the power of the upper class by sharing her story. She creates hope for herself and her story is the one thing that she hangs onto throughout the story. She goes from a slave that was no longer happy with life, to a elder with joy and happiness living with her kid known across the country. Her storytelling unifies her past with the present and creates a place for her in society.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. (2019, Nov 25). Retrieved from

Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill essay
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