English 2400, 001
Prof. Howard Horwitz
31 September 2010
Slave Owners Should Sleep With One Eye Open
During the 19th century, one philosophy was consistent throughout the Confederate states: whites were superior to blacks. More specifically, most whites considered blacks simply as property rather than people; thus, most slaveholders felt trivialized if their slaves performed well and indicated competence. If put in this situation, slave owners would ask themselves, “How is this happening? I am the slave owner; therefore, I am superior.” To reassert their status and disguise their insecurity from themselves, white slave owners and their foremen, some of whom were black, sought and seized any opportunity to impose their will on their property. When a master felt threatened by his subjects, he often dehumanized them through beatings, diatribes or various deplorable acts. Harriet Beecher Stowe may have been appalled at such behavior, but at the time, most southerners considered this treatment praiseworthy. Stowe interpreted this behavior as a signal of the slave holders’ insecurities, and she accentuated it in her controversial novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
In the story’s very first pages, Stowe represents this brutality of the slaveholders through Mr. Harris, a bagging factory owner. George, Mr. Harris’s slave, ingeniously designs a machine that cleaned hemp. This invention exhibits George’s intelligence, vexing Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris’s wrath intensifies when Harris listens to George’s tutorial of the machine. The slave “talked so fluently, held himself so erect, looked so handsome and manly, that his master began to feel an uneasy consciousness of inferiority. What business had his slave to be marching round the country, inventing machines, and holding up his head among gentlemen” (Stowe 55). Instead of accepting his slave’s uncanny brilliance, Harris resents it. In order to bolster his confidence, Harris removes George from the factory... [continues]
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