The Book of Negroes: final analysis
I’ve spent this past month reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and have analyzed it from three different perspectives; reader response, archetypal, and post-colonial. I believe that the category of “historical fiction” doesn’t do the novel justice, for it’s much more than that. It’s riveting. Not only does it follow the journey toward abolition, as other slavery novels do, but at the same time it splits open past wounds only to leave an everlasting impact on the present. It’s an educational novel when received from any point of view nonetheless, but when investigated using specific techniques, more can become uncovered.
I think the perspective which has allowed me to gain the most insight from Hill’s work was post-colonial literary criticism. This is because with this response, I was able to discover a lot about my text and really analyse the motives behind the main theme of the novel. The Book of Negroes pretty much centres around topics of loss, perseverance and courage which all come about because of the oppression of society at the time. Along with this, one of the main themes is that no matter the barriers which slavery and racial discrimination build against them, one must never lose hope that they’ll return back to the culture that was ripped from them. A quote that I find best represents colonial oppression is when Aminata says, “I was rowed out to the George III, inspected for the Book of Negroes by men who did not know me, and allowed to leave the Thirteen Colonies. I knew that it would be called the United States. But I refused to speak that name. There was nothing united about about a nation that said all men were created equal, but that kept my people in chains”(Hill 311). This, when seen from any point of view, screams colonial oppression.
When doing the post-colonial response, I was able to recognize the ideology of the European society during the transatlantic slave trade and experience the backlash it had on slaves and the African culture. Land and families were ripped away from innocent African people, stolen of their languages and identities — replaced with “white person” names — and they were forced to work for whoever decided to own them. We follow Aminata’s journey throughout all of this while reading the story and are able to identify that the motives which drove the Slave Trade were money and power.
This perspective of the novel, having so many aspects of colonialism present to analyse, allowed me to learn a lot about the derivatives of money and power. I learned that something as simple as the opportunity to make money can cause humans to do inhuman things toward other humans. The saddest part is, is that at the time, treating a whole race as “the other” wasn’t even thought of as a tainted ideology; it was encouraged. With that, another thing that made me think deeper about the texts was that people’s power over each other was tiered. A person like Aminata is owned by an everyday white man and his family. This every day white man, either Jewish or Christian, then responds to his superior or the owner of him and his money. This superior then responds to the owner of a corporation, and then corporations answer to the King. These tiered levels of authority remind me much of today’s society — only without the obvious aspect of slavery — and I feel as though our yearning to succeed and have money will never really go away.
Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Trade pbk. ed., Toronto, HarperCollins, 2007.