Slavery and Racial Segregation in American Literature of 19th Century

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Date Submitted: 03/02/2009 02:58 PM

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Mateusz Banaś

Program: British and American Literature and Culture

University of Silesia

History of American Literature

slavery and racial segregation in American literature of 19th century

Enslavement of one sets the others free.

The problem of slavery in the United States was much more complex than in the other countries. Black people served as the important fundamental of American economy, mainly in the southern states, which were inhabited by conservatives, attached to traditional values. The abolition of slavery in the half of states, and the economical differences between regions, were some of the reasons, which resulted in the Civil War. Even though, on the North the slavery was banned, only a small group of residents were categorically against it. However, “nineteenth-century writers were already mindful of the presence of Black people”[1], and many of them became interested in showing their own, usually anti-slavery, opinion.

The Transcendentalists, who in fact, articulated what America already possessed – a trust in the individual, in democracy, in the possibility of continued change for better, dominated American Literature of the 19th century[2]. Nevertheless, all these beliefs could be achieved by the presence of Black slaves who, as Herman Mellville’s works show, "served as a vehicle for regulating love and the imagination as defences against the psychic costs of guilt and despair. By the Africanism, the American knew himself as not enslaved, but free and powerful”[3].

Furthermore, there were other Romantic writers in America who were not optimistic, who saw problems more than opportunities, and who were especially sensitive to human frailty, weakness, and limitation[4]. It has been suggested that romance is an evasion of history, but the facts show that these men spoke for troubled minority, whose truth was not so easily welcomed by typical Americans. Romantic writers like Melville – noticed as a dark...