Literature Review


Abolition of the Slave Trade and Slavery: Literature Review “Literature and the telling of stories are indispensable to our ability to cope with that mighty construct we call the human condition. After all, why does man need bread? To survive, but why survive if it’s only to eat more bread? To live is more than just a sustained life; it is to enrich and be enriched by life.”—Shasi Taroor Sources and Documentation             Remember that your paper should be a critical review, not just a summary of the work or a biography of the author; it should clearly demonstrate that you have read and understood the work. (Instructions for Writing Unit Papers) In addition, you should evaluate it within the context of its impact on the human rights movement. Select a work of significant literary quality; read and study the work; research its reception and impact; read and incorporate critical reviews of the work. Your final paper should include references to the scholarly sources you used to evaluate it, documented following the MLA format, 8th Edition.  Below are some sample citations for the type of sources you will most likely consult. (Helpful Links–includes links to MLA citation help) Double space and use hanging indent (Canvas did not retain the correct formatting for some examples.) Sample book: Jones, Edward P. The Known World. HarperCollins, 2003. Sample republication of an older book: Hurston, Zora Neale. Mules and Men. 1935. Harpers, 1990.  Sample books online: Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly. Clarke & Company, 1852. Project Gutenberg, 13 Jan. 2006. Brown, Henry Box. Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown Written by Himself. Manchester, 1851. Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, 1999. Sample articles online: Parkus, Robert D. and Mary Schlosser. “Aspects of the Publishing History of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1851-1900.” Catherine Pelton Durrell ’25,  Archives and Special Collections. 2001-2005, Vassar College Libraries. Holmes, Marian Smith. “The Great Escape from Slavery of Ellen and William Craft.”, 16 June 2010, Sample essay or story in an anthology: Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience.” The American Tradition in Literature,  edited by George Perkins and Barbara Perkins. 11th ed.,  McGraw Hill, 2007. Sample poem online: Wheatley, Phillis. “On Virtue.” Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. London, 1773.  American Verse Project. University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative, 1999. Sample review (Instructions and examples are excerpted from Purdue University OWL (Links to an external site.)  (Links to an external site.) ): To cite a review, include the author of the review, title of the review (if available), then the phrase, “Review of” and provide the title of the work (in italics for books, plays, and films; in quotation marks for articles, poems, and short stories). Finally, provide performance and/or publication information. Review Author. “Title of Review (if there is one).” Review of Performance Title, by Author/Director/Artist. Title of Periodical, Day Month Year, page. Seitz, Matt Zoller. “Life in the Sprawling Suburbs, If You Can Really Call It Living.” Review of Radiant City, directed by Gary Burns and Jim Brown, New York Times, 30 May 2007, p. E1. Weiller, K. H. Review of Sport, Rhetoric, and Gender: Historical Perspectives and Media Representations, edited by Linda K. Fuller. Choice, Apr. 2007, p. 1377. Here is another example: Gates, David. “Original Sins,” Review of Mercy, by Toni Morrison. New York Times, 28 Nov. 2008. Purpose, Focus, and Suggested Approaches for the Assignment             For this unit, your research will focus on the role of literature in raising awareness and furthering the mission of the human rights movement. The first international human rights movement, the antislavery crusade, pioneered the tactics adopted by activists in every successive generation right down to the present day. The development of relatively cheap printing processes and the transportation revolution that made mass distribution of materials possible enabled abolitionists, black and white, to fight their battle by using the power of language: poetry and songs, stories and novels, slave narratives and autobiographies, essays and newspaper articles, in short, virtually every known form of literature. Their words had the power to jar readers from their comfortable worlds and pull them into powerful dramas they had never before imagined.  The following suggestions offer a variety of approaches to research this subject.             It is important to understand that the literature of slavery times began in the oral folklore of an illiterate people. Just as the visual arts create a sense of cultural identity, the stories that a people repeat for generations provide a means of creative expression and community cohesion. In spite of the violence and oppression of slavery, a rich and expressive culture developed among African Americans, one that has left a lasting legacy. You may want to explore this legacy or to consider the ties between African and African American folklore.             By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, some African Americans had achieved literacy and were beginning to produce a literature of their own. While they contributed to a variety of genres, including poetry, novels, and essays, by far the most popular and powerful literature of the era was the slave narrative. By telling the story of slavery from the inside, these accounts captured the imagination of countless readers, and still have the power to move us today. Indeed, these accounts have been among the most influential genres in all of American literature. Any one of these narratives is an apt subject for review.             The institution of slavery also had a powerful impact on white writers of the antebellum period. Abolitionists wrote intense attacks on the system for their newspapers and polemical tracts, but they also produced novels, poems, and stories, some of enduring quality and value.            Another interesting approach to this unit is to study the post-Civil War impact of slavery on literature. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the development of a number of brilliant African American writers, all of whom commented at some level on the legacy of slavery. Finally, you might want to look at the work of contemporary writers who still return to the subject. Suggested Resources             Please read and review an original source for yourself; do not rely on such resources as Wikipedia, Sparknotes, or Cliffnotes. You should use scholarly sources to find information about the author’s background and help you evaluate the impact of the work and its relationship to other works of the era. Use the library (books are always good sources) or the library databases.  For example, the NCTC library subscribes to a database titled Slavery in America and the World, a good place to start. You may use academic sources on the Internet, but be sure that you can identify the author and check his or her credentials before citing the source. The best sources are typically associated with a university or a scholarly database.             Some general reference books that will help you make a selection include Blyden Jackson’s History of Afro-American Literature; Robert Bone’s The Negro Novel in America, and The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, edited by William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris. Impossible Witnesses: Truth, Abolitionism and Slave Testimony by Dwight A. McBride offers excellent insight into the slave narrative genre.             If you wish to investigate the folklore traditions of slavery times a good place to start is with Joel Chandler Harris, Tales of Uncle Remus. Even though the collection reflects the prejudice of the white compiler, the stories can be read for their meaning to their original authors and audiences. Consider specifically how these stories helped slaves cope with their oppression and how they related to African tales. Another fascinating work is Zora Neale Hurston’s collection of folk stories, Mules and Men. Her account of collecting the tales in the 1930s gives these stories special appeal.             There are literally hundreds of slave narratives; the most famous, as well as being the most popular in their own day, are the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass, William Wells Brown, and Harriet Jacobs. A brief sampling of others you may find interesting include: Olaudah Equiano (Captured in Africa when he was about 11 years old, he became a major figure in the early abolitionist movement); William and Ellen Craft ( Ellen disguised herself as a white man to effect the couple’s escape); Henry “Box” Brown (He had himself boxed up and sent North through the mail); Solomon Northup (He was a free black man kidnapped into slavery, whose story has recently been made into a moving film); Sojourner Truth (Born a slave in New York, she became an important speaker in behalf of freedom and equality for all), and Richard Allen (He became a major figure in African American religious history). These and other accounts are available electronically from the University of North Carolina site, Documenting the American South at  (Links to an external site.) . One of the most important resources for understanding slavery from an insider’s perspective is the collection of interviews conducted by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, available from the Library of Congress site American Memory at  (Links to an external site.) . In considering all of these works, keep in mind that African American writers and speakers were often addressing white readers and audiences, so their work is heavily influenced by what they assumed whites wanted to know and to hear. They tell their story with a specific agenda–gaining support for the antislavery cause. In addition, many of these accounts were compiled by white “editors” so that it is sometimes difficult to determine where the black voice ends and the white begins.             African Americans distinguished themselves in other genres as well. In the 1770s Phillis Wheatley became the first published African American poet in North America. In addition to the narrative of his life, William Wells Brown also wrote a novel, Clotel, or the President’s Daughter, and a woman named Hannah Crafts authored the novel A Bondwoman’s Narrative, a manuscript just recently discovered. Essays and lectures by numerous black writers (such as David Ruggles) contributed to the literature of antislavery. David Walker’s Appeal was one of the most radical calls to action printed prior to the Civil War.             If you prefer to review the impact that slavery had on white authors, the possibilities are numerous. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is without question one of the most important and influential novels ever written and remains a prime example of how literature moves hearts and minds. Even before Stowe’s novel appeared, the Frenchman Gustave de Beaumont wrote Marie or Slavery in the United States. Although the novel was not translated into English until the 1950s, it went through several editions in France and received prestigious literary awards. In America, popular poets such as John Greenleaf Whittier, Walt Whitman, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, along with many lesser-known poets and songwriters, produced significant antislavery poems in the antebellum period. A collection of these works can be found in the Antislavery Literature Project, compiled by Arizona State University at  (Links to an external site.) . Additional resources include the polemic writings of such antislavery advocates as William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, Wendell Phillips, and Theodore Dwight Weld. Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” expressed his opposition to slavery and the Mexican War and ultimately became one of the most influential documents in literary and political history.             If you prefer more contemporary literature, you may want to explore the work of post-Civil War writers, especially Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. W.E.B DuBois, Souls of Black Folk, is a classic nonfiction work on the continuing legacy of slavery. Black novelists and poets of the early 20th century such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Arna Bontemps all dealt with the legacy of slavery. More recent works include Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Mercy, Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage, Edward Jones’ The Known World, Alice Randall’s Wind Done Gone (retells Gone with the Wind from the perspective of Scarlet’s half- sister, a slave) William Styron’s The Confessions of Nat Turner, Isabel Allende, Island Beneath the Sea, Ta-nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, Colton Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, and Barack Obama’s speech on race delivered during the 2008 presidential campaign. Finally, you might want to look at slavery in the world today: Kevin Bales’s Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Questions to Consider: Some of the following questions will not apply to all genres; they are just intended to help you get started. Who is the author and what is his or her background? How does the work relate to and/or draw from other works of the era? What were the primary influences on the work? How has the work been received by the public and by critics? How has it influenced other literary works? Describe the most memorable characters. What techniques did the author use to engage readers with these characters? How did the author use language effectively to convey his or her message? How is the plot structured? Is it effective? In your opinion, does the work qualify as literature, or is it essentially propaganda? How has the work contributed to the growth of the human rights movement?

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