Book 4 Response 2 (Reading 6)

reading6Pages 400-end

Summary

This section begins with the chapter “Help from the saints” which takes off where the last section ended – with the death of Thomas Peters. Daddy Moses arranges a “family meeting,” which only Nova Scotians are allowed to attend. This is a point of contention between the Nova Scotians and the Sierra Leone Company which ends in compromise – the Nova Scotians have a family meeting first and then the company joins in. Before the Company joins, many Nova Scotians call for a coup but this idea is shot down, much to Aminata’s relief. Clarkson offers financial support regarding the funerals and taking care of the widows left behind after the two Nova Scotians die. The Nova Scotians, as well as Alexander Falconbridge, a governor of Sierra Leone, agree that Clarkson is one of the last decent toubabs. Falconbridge invites Aminata aboard the King George for dinner. While on the ship he talks about his time as a doctor on a slave ship, as well as his travels across the ocean. Falconbridge tells Aminata that the only way she can return back inland is to go to Bance Island because the slave traders are the only ones who would be willing to take her inland. Visiting with Falconbridge reminds Aminata of her horrid time of the slave ship to America because she reads his memoir. Anna Maria, the wife of Alexander Falconbridge, becomes fast friends with Aminata and tells her about Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who wrote a memoir which is incredibly popular in England at the moment. Anna Maria also starts a bit of a debate with Aminata over the slave trade, playing Devil’s Advocate, this is slightly frustrating for Aminata but she appreciates how open Anna Maria is with her.

The next chapter is called “G for Grant, and O for Oswald”, this chapter begins with Aminata agreeing to let Falconbridge take her to Bance Island. Aminata dresses up in her fanciest, most British clothes in order to mentally separate herself from the young girl that was at Bance Island years and years earlier. Once on Bance Island, Aminata meets William Armstrong, follows Falconbridge through the castle and is waited on by Temne slaves. Aminata listens as Armstrong and Falconbridge debate the sanity of King George III; Aminata examines a painting of Queen Charlotte and wonders why anyone would call her the black queen with such white skin and features. After dinner, Armstrong tries to convince Aminata not to go back to Bayo, telling her that it is too dangerous and doubting her knowledge that she went through Bance Island to get to South Carolina. Aminata tells him that she is not scared of the danger and must return home. As Armstrong continues to berate her, Aminata reveals to Armstrong the brand mark above her breast which is marked GO. She learns from Armstrong that this stands for Grant Oswald, who is the man who owns Bance Island. The next day, Aminata meets with African traders and makes a deal with a Fula trader named Alassane, Aminata does not want them to know that she can speak Fulfulde, so she only speaks to them in Temne, which proves advantageous later in the reading. John Clarkson attempts to convince Aminata to return to England with him to help the abolitionist movement but she decides to stay in Africa to attempt to find Bayo.

The next chapter, “God willing,” begins in September of 1800, when Aminata begins the journey inland with Alassane. She says goodbye to the Nova Scotians and to the members of the Sierra Leone company like Falconbridge and Anna Maria, then leaves for her village. Aminata is not sure if she can trust Alassane, but he is her only hope of returning hope, God willing. Aminata walks for many days is and is uncomfortable with how bossy and cunning Alassane is, as well as uncomfortable with the slave coffles that she passes – but she does nothing to save those about to face the same fate that she did. Weeks into her journey back home, Aminata hears Alassane talking to another one of the traders in Fulfulde about how they are going to sell her into slavery once again and have to do it soon because she is old and growing tired. Shortly after this, Aminata escapes them and meets up with a group of Fula people. She meets a girl named Aminata, which fills her with much joy. She realizes that she can live without Bayo, but that she needs to have her freedom to survive. In the Fula village Aminata fulfills her dream of becoming a djeli but she is not truly happy with her life in the Fula village and seeks a guide to return to the coast.

The final chapter of the book is called “Grand djeli of the academy” and takes place in London in 1802. The story has finally caught up with the smaller British chapters at the beginning of the books. Aminata’s entire worldview has changed drastically since when the story started. She had always viewed England as the stepping stone to Africa, but instead used Africa as the stepping stone to England in order to help John Clarkson and the abolitionists. In England, Aminata attends meetings of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. She meets a British Black servant named Dante, who tells Aminata that he and the rest of the black servants are not to speak with her out of fear that they will taint the accuracy of her take on slavery and the treatment of negroes. Aminata announces to the Committee that she will be penning a memoir and Stanley Hastings claims that she will need their help but Aminata insists that she will write her story herself. Soon after this, Aminata is interviewed for a newspaper in front of many members of the media, the Committee and the public and begins to tell her story. The British are shocked to hear that Aminata was branded at a slave factory, which goes against everything that the pro-slavery people were saying at the time. The shock value of her branding carries into the daily papers and news of this travels to King George III, who invites Aminata for tea. When Aminata meets the King and Queen Charlotte, Aminata takes note of how she has a broad nose, lips and rich complexion, unlike the paintings that she had seen. The Queen refers to Aminata by her full given name, which means a significant amount to Aminata, who has been compromising her name for others for years. When Aminata meets the King, he appears to be in one of his fits of insanity and does not say a word to her. After Aminata returns home from parliament, she discovers that there is a woman waiting to see her. This woman is none other than May, Aminata’s long lost daughter. May tells her mother about how she was treated like the Witherspoon’s adopted daughter until her will was too much, at which point she was treated as a house servant and locked up during the night. Eventually she left the Witherspoons and became a teacher at her own academy to teach Negroes how to read and write. Aminata remains with May for the rest of her life and becomes the Grand djeli of May’s academy. Aminata’s horrific story has a rather pleasant ending after all.

Response

In some ways this was the ending that I wanted, and in others I dreaded every minute of it. Hill certainly took on an epic of sorts in this novel and so regardless of what you thought of the earlier chapters I believe that the reader would be disappointed to a certain degree. Help from the saints seemed almost redundant to me – Falconbridge could have easily been introduced in God willing and Thomas Peters could have been mourned in the previous section. I actually quite liked the character of William Armstrong, he was well written and believable, I wonder if Alexander Falconbridge could have been merged with Armstrong as they served similar purposes and were, overall incredibly similar with the exception that, in my opinion, Armstrong was written better. I’m unsure how I feel about God Willing because of Aminata’s change in mindset regarding Bayo. While this change is believable I think that Hill should have spent more time on the transition between Aminata wanting to find Bayo, and deciding to go back to England, rather than the page that it was given at the end of the chapter. Overall, I found Aminata’s last moment in Africa rushed and I felt rather cheated by the quick end to what is arguably the entirety of the plot line. I also found that the final chapter was rushed in some ways and let me down. It was still well written and captivating, so I believe some of my disappointment comes from the fact that I’ve been forced to analyze this novel to death and back again, but overall I was saddened when May returned because it seemed incredibly unrealistic and was also heart broken by Aminata’s loss of memory in the final pages, which seemed to disappoint both May and Aminata herself.

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One thought on “Book 4 Response 2 (Reading 6)

  1. I like your focus on the relevance of certain characters, and whether or not they could be merged. Lawrence Hill, is, after all, a fiction author, and thus must be held accountable for the inclusion of any character in the book. I also agree with your statements about a ‘rushed’ feeling at the a number of points in the book’s conclusion. Hill’s pacing throughout the novel leaves something to be desired, I think, and it’s unfortunate he couldn’t get a grip on this in some of the most vital final moments at his novels conclusion. I might argue though, that while May’s return may feel unrealistic, that it was necessary to bring a slightly upbeat note to the novels conclusion. It’s hard to look on the novel as a whole as having a traditional fairy tale ‘happy ending’, considering all that has gone wrong, but as a bit of a traditionalist I do enjoy the presence of some small measure of family and peace near the end of Aminata’s life.

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