Honor and Slavery
Perhaps one of the strongest elements of slavery is honor. Honor has had a wide range of impact in history, whether it was shaping major dynasties and hierarchies, deciding an individuals’ role in society, or family ties and marriages. This sense of worth, high esteem, or virtue was also manipulated by slave masters in order to control their slaves. “The slave could have no honor because of the origin of his status, the indignity and all-pervasiveness of his indebtedness, his absence of any independent social existence, but most of all because he was without power except through another” (p 6). This element is not just a physical force, such as coercive power, which one can heal and even escape, but also a social-psychological issue. A slave had no name or public worth. Any worth was lived out and given through the master. The relationship between the slave and master can be complex but there was always “the strong sense of honor the experience of mastership generated, and conversely, the dishonoring of the slave condition” (p 6). Although Patterson made a clear connection between the slave and master with honor, his concept still contains gaps as certain slaves managed to preserve their honor using the power of voice.
When we take a closer look at Patterson’s element of honor, we find that there are several aspects that are not completely sound. In order for a person to submit themselves, even to the extent of a slave, one must esteem the other greater, or simply having more honor. “Slaves were always persons who had been dishonored in a generalized way. To value a man at a high rate, is to honor him; at a low rate, is to dishonor him” (p 6). This presents the first aspect of honor that proves to be too narrow in definition; that slaves have no honor. He also assumes that slaves have no independent existence and have no worth in society. Any worth they have is only lived through the master. A slave only exists through the master. “The slave, as we have already indicated, could have no honor because he had no power and no independent social existence, hence no public worth. He had no name of his own to defend. He could only defend his master’s worth and his master’s name” (p 6). These specific assumptions made by Patterson regarding honor is contradicted by the voice of Thomas Phelps and Mr.TS. Both individuals managed to defy Patterson’s views of honor and the slave using a weapon which many reformers used to win freedom: the power of voice.
Thomas Phelps travels through his captivity by pirates along the Barbary coasts. He goes through much labor under ruthless taskmasters and witnesses numerous inhumane treatments of slaves. He goes from one owner to the next, dealing with Moors, yet he doesn’t lose his sense of honor in being an Englishman. This whole text manages to uphold that national pride and honor. He begins setting up his account by referring to his enslavement as “captivity”. He titles his experience as “A True Account of the Captivity of Thomas Phelps”. The term captivity leads the reader to believe that this condition was temporary and that he wasn’t meant to be enslaved. Right from the title, Phelps is trying to preserve his dignity and honor. Using his voice and choice of words, Thomas Phelps exposes that he is just like his fellow English citizens.
Another way Thomas Phelps uses voice to preserve his honor is by abasing his captors. He refers to them as “the most unreasonable and barbarous of men” (p 43). Phelps does this to create a distinction between himself and those who captured him. He also describes one of his masters, Hamed Ben Haddu, as “a great master in the art of dissimulation and flattery, a qualification which seems very requisite in a courtier of such a barbarous, bloody tyrant as his master is” (p 43). Phelps continued this harsh voice against his captors and masters to show his readers who these men really were. Even in...
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