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Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives

Jenny Sharpe
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Ghosts of Slavery
    Book Description:

    While some scholars imply that only the struggle for freedom was legitimate, Jenny Sharpe complicates the linear narrative-from slavery to freedom and literacy-that emerged from the privileging of autobiographical accounts like that of Frederick Douglass. She challenges a paradigm that equates agency with resistance and self-determination, and introduces new ways to examine negotiations for power within the constraints of slavery.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9238-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction The Haunting of History
    (pp. xi-xxvi)

    We live in a postmodern world, or so we are told, when narrative ceases to exist except as shadows of the past. Narrative functions less as a story to be told than as bits and pieces of stories we once knew but have forgotten because they no longer matter. But what if the story was not recorded from the start? What if the ghosts of the past are spirits that are doomed to wander precisely because their stories have not been told? Slaves believed that their earthly shadows lingered behind unless the appropriate burial rituals were performed. Their lost stories...

  5. 1. “The Rebels Old Obeah Woman” History as Spirit Possession
    (pp. 1-43)

    This study begins with Nanny because she is emblematic of slave women’s resistance to slavery (see, for instance, Mathurin 1975). By beginning with Nanny, however, we are confronted with a paradox. As the leader of a group of rebellious maroons, she is the most prominent of the three women in this study, but she is also the most invisible in the archives. Her name appears but three times in the official records on the first Jamaican maroon war and once more on a patent assigning a parcel of land. Even then, we cannot establish with any certainty if the woman...

  6. 2. “An Incomparable Nurse” The Obi of Domesticity
    (pp. 44-86)

    Possessing a knowledge of herbal cures for the tropical diseases to which European men were susceptible, the mulatto concubine appears in colonial narratives as the domesticated and slavish counterpart to the maroon obeah woman. Yet it is possible to pry the concubine’s domesticity away from the colonial signification of “domesticated” by introducing questions of female agency to a site of subjugation. Doing so does not suggest that concubines were essentially rebellious. Rather than focusing on acts of resistance, this chapter considers the tactics through which they negotiated some power without necessarily challenging the system of slavery. While a study of...

  7. 3. “Our History Was Truly Broken” Writing Back to a Slave Past
    (pp. 87-119)

    Although Joanna never made that fateful journey to Europe except in the imagination of abolitionists like Lydia Child, her story can be read as an allegory for the postwar migration from the West Indies to England. This migration is generally dated from 1948, the year that theEmpire Windrushdocked at London with 492 Jamaicans anticipating a better life. What awaited them instead was a confinement to low-paying unskilled jobs and the racial prejudices of English people who considered them inferior. Like the first generation of immigrants who in hindsight wished that they had never left the Caribbean, Joanna expressed...

  8. 4. “A Very Troublesome Woman” Who Speaks for the Morality of Slave Women?
    (pp. 120-152)

    The slave narrative was a means by which an unlettered black woman such as Mary Prince could express herself in writing. But it also exhibits the triangular relationship between slaves, their readers, and evangelical sponsors. Although the testimony was written at Prince’s request, it was sponsored by the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society in London, Thomas Pringle, who decided to publish it in response to her owner’s efforts to discredit her. In keeping with the genre of antislavery pamphlets to which it belongs, Prince’s narrative was intended to create sympathy for the Negro race by showing slavery from the perspective...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 153-156)

    In a city like Los Angeles, which is dominated by the Hollywood film industry, it is difficult to ignore the euphoria over the Oscars for best actor and best actress in leading roles both being awarded to African Americans for the first time in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. Halle Berry’s recognition for playing Leticia inMonster’s Ball(2001) is undoubtedly an achievement of a sort, just as Hattie McDaniel’s was for the supporting role of Mammy inGone with the Wind(1939). Yet the stereotyping of black women in both roles—despite the...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 157-168)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 169-182)
  12. Index
    (pp. 183-188)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 189-189)