Responses to Other Blogs

Reading One

http://thesoundofgitgud.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/review-book-1/

I find your response to Hill’s use of clichés rather interesting. I also found that the characters were cliché, but I’m not sure if I would identify this as a fault of Hill himself, literature as a whole or the lack of accurate, non-sensationalized information about west African villages in the 1700’s prior to the slave trade. Clichés regarding characters like Fanta and Fomba exist because a. they work as tools to progress the story and b. are based in logical situations and reactions. Fanta is not just the no-nonsense housewife, but also a woman who fears her position with her husband will be taken over by an eleven-year-old girl, which would undoubtedly leave Fanta feeling fragile and forced to put on a strong face. The historical accuracies definitely carry the story thus far, but I would disagree that Aminata is uncharacteristically capable. As a woman in a misogynistic society, Aminata has been forced to take on responsibility at times which would be considered premature by modern, western standards. This is the basis for her strength once she reaches the slave ship. We also need to remember that Aminata is narrating this as an old woman and, therefore, is reflecting on life and is unreliable.

Reading Two

http://kaemora.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/the-book-of-negroes-book-two-pages-103-63/

I also found that the way Aminata’s treatment on the plantation was portrayed was contrary to what I was taught. I can only presume that you were taught, as I was, that slavery was much worse than it is being portrayed by Aminata. Undoubtedly, slavery is inexcusable and a great shame on humans as a whole. However, after being taught that slaves were regularly beaten, raped or killed I was shocked by how easy it was for Aminata to create a life on the plantation where she had friends, a lover, and a teacher. I also thought that it was rather odd that Aminata has not been punished for being intelligent – I know that her intelligence is threatening – but I wonder how much of Georgia’s warnings came from jealousy that Georgia was not as smart as Aminata and never would be.

Reading Three

http://rab9644501602.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-book-of-negroes-response-3-pages-163-233/

I like how you mentioned that these things still happen today. A lot of focus in the Western world is on slavery as this ancient atrocity but to this day terrorist groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State kidnap and take people captive as slaves. Slavery is not a thing of the past it’s a present day issue that we, as a society, turn a blind eye to.

Reading Four

http://leungwingkay.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-book-of-negroes-personal-response-pages-233-351/

I’m not sure that Lindo went from being a mean slave owner to a nice slave owner, but rather that he went from being a man utilizing free labour, to a man in mourning, to a man once again utilizing free labour. While no one would argue that Lindo was truly a good man because he owned Aminata and Dolly, I find it hard to believe that Lindo was a bad man. Contrary to Appleby, Lindo does not rape or beat Aminata, he allows her to learn to read and write, work for her own money, wander without a guide and speak proper English. I think that Lindo was being honest when he said that he referred to his slaves as servants because he certainly doesn’t act like Aminata and Dolly are slaves. Therefore I was not surprised when Lindo did not ask for his slave back, and instead set Aminata free.

http://val1118.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/fourth-reading-response/

I agree with you that the story is beginning to fall flat. After reading a lot of other classmates blogs I can see that many people agree with us that Hill begins to disappoint starting with this reading. I wonder if we had encountered this novel outside of an academic setting if it would have made a difference. I was enthralled while reading the novel, but once I had to analyze it, I felt as though I was flogging a dead horse. I think that from a surface level this novel is quite good, but once you look at it from an academic literary stand point it cannot hold its own against other novels, particularly classics such as Gulliver’s Travels, which is mentioned in the novel.

Reading Five

http://leungwingkay.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/the-book-of-negroes-personal-response-page-352-400/

I, too, was upset that the Witherspoons had taken May. Aminata’s undying dedication to Chekura and May is admirable, even after being told that her husband is dead she refuses to take advantage of situations which would better her social and economic standing (such as marrying King Jimmy). This says a lot about Aminata’s character and values – undoubtedly she is holding on to Chekura because he is a connection to her Africa, but even then the level of commitment for a place she hasn’t seen in thirty+ years is outstanding.

Reading Six

https://ayz3712.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/book-of-negroes-part-6-ending/

I agree with you completely – I, too, was disappointed by the predictability of the end of the novel. It felt cheap and rushed yet unrealistic too. Overall, I felt cheated by Hill when I finished the novel because it had such promise in the first few sections but seemed to fall flat in the end. I’m not sure that there would be a way to end the novel without doing an injustice to the first three books, however. Because Hill chose to narrate the book in past tense as Aminata’s story from London we know that Aminata survives all of the atrocities she faces, which is rather disappointing. It’s sort of like starting to read a book and knowing that there are multiple novels afterwards so you know that the main character lives. I think that the only way for this to end well would have been Aminata’s death, which would have been equally weak and is, generally, a poor writing technique for a professional to utilize.

Introduction

Welcome to my blog analyzing The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill for Mrs. Kwasnik-Senger’s English 30A Canadian Literature Enriched Class.

This novel is the inspiring tale of Aminata, a young African girl who is stolen from her village and sold into slavery. Despite all odds, Aminata utilizes her abilities as a midwife and her knack for languages to escape slavery and travel to New York, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone and England. This adventure of a lifetime brings the reader straight into the heart of slavery and the courageous men and women who risk everything in order to regain freedom and return to Africa.

Here you will find my summaries and responses to each individual section, as well as links to my responses to my classmate’s blog posts, and my overall impression of the novel.

Summaries & Responses

Reading One

Reading Two

Reading Three

Reading Four

Reading Five

Reading Six

Response to Other Blogs

Comments on classmate’s blog posts

Overall Response to Novel

Response

I would also like to point out that WordPress automatically posts based on a GMT clock and Saskatchewan is -6GMT, therefore some posts say they were posted on December 8th when they were actually posted on December 7th because I did not solve this problem until late evening on December 7th; this is also the explanation as to why my overall response to the novel is in the middle of my reading response if you scroll instead of using this list.

Overall Response to Novel

Overall I liked The Book of Negroes. I believe that Lawrence Hill did an excellent job of tying together seemingly unconnected places, periods of time and people with the narrator of Aminata and her story. From a purely enjoyment level this novel was rather impressive and generally lived up to my expectations, despite not being what I usually read (my daily reading consists of current events and political journalism, I also read a far bit of young adult fiction, as well as poetry and screenplays, the latter of which are normally written in previous centuries by the likes of Wilde and Milton). However, from an academic standpoint The Book of Negroes starts out incredibly strong and falls flat on its face by the time the forth book has started.

In each on of my reading section responses I pick apart various aspects of the section so I will therefore focus only a few overarching thematic issues with the novel, as well as a few other aspects which I feel deserve to be touched upon outside of the section by section reading.

Firstly, from the beginning of the novel Aminata is told by nearly everyone that she meets who is an ally, whether they are black or white, that she needs to keep her linguistic abilities hidden from others who would like to take advantage of her. Undoubtedly, Aminata’s ability to learn languages (knowing Bamanikan, Fulfulde, Arabic, Gullah, Slave English, Toubab English and Temne) is noteworthy and incredibly impressive but I felt as though based on the seven major locations that Aminata lives (Bayo, St. Helena, Charles Town, New York City, Birchtown, Freetown and London) only in Freetown does Aminata receive anything but lavish opportunities due to her linguistic abilities. I was glad (in the least twisted way possible) that the Fula traders wanted to sell Aminata back into slavery when they were supposed to take Aminata back to Bayo because it meant that someone was finally taking advantage of her for her linguistic abilities and it was the hiding of them which allowed her to escape being resold into slavery. Unfortunately, this happened so far away from Aminata’s father’s and Georgia’s warnings about showing linguistic abilities that realizing this was an after thought.

Secondly, perhaps I am just too cynical to truly enjoy the beauty of Chekura and Aminata’s relationship but I found it incredibly hard to believe. From the very beginning Aminata doesn’t particularly trust Chekura except out of necessity and it seems to me that she is only in love with him, rather than someone else, because they are both from Africa. Other than a shared back story I do not see what it is that Chekura has over any other man, negro or otherwise, that is so appealing to Aminata; perhaps if this had been explained I would find their relationship easier to believe. Furthermore, I do not believe to the slightest that Chekura was faithful to Aminata because I never see what their connection is other than coming from the same area. This makes Aminata’s faithfulness to Chekura, especially in times of great opportunity such as regarding traveling to Nova Scotia or Sierra Leone, rather disappointing because I feel as though she is potentially missing out on other opportunities because of a man that is barely there. Even though Aminata is regarded as fiercely independent in the novel, I found her to be rather weak when it came to her grotesque dependence in Chekura.

Thirdly, I felt sick to my stomach knowing how badly Aminata wanted to return to a place that was so terribly misogynistic and full of hatred. I think that Aminata views Bayo through rose-coloured glasses the second she leaves, and can never see it for the place that it truly was. Even if we ignore modern gender equality standards, Aminata is still longing to return to a place where she has no future. She would not be able to learn to read any more if her father died because everyone else in the village was either illiterate or believed that women have no place learning how to read. She was going to be forced to experienced horrendous female genital mutilation, a barbaric cultural practice which still occurs to this day in many regions which was not practiced by the toubab in the Western world. She was going to be forced into a polygamous arranged marriage with the chief of her village and she had no ability to become a djeli, something that she had always wanted to do, because of a caste-like system within her village. While I certainly do not think that slavery was the proper way to escape these atrocities I do have to give WIlliam Armstrong some credit in his arguments that Aminata had the potential to be better off in the toubab world than in her own. I am disappointed that this aspect of the novel was not covered in more detail in class.

This brings me to my fourth point. Slavery, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, polygamy, and caste-like social classes still exist in the modern world, today. As a class, rather than focusing on the novel for nearly two months we should have taken the lessons from the book and applied them to our world today. While 12 Years a Slave is an excellent movie, I feel as though we should have spent time learning about modern day slavery, such as at the hands of Boko Haram and the Islamic State, as well as discussing the Canadian connection to this novel at greater lengths since this is a Canadian Literature class.

The final point that I would like to bring up is the references to Queen Charlotte as a black or African queen throughout the novel, culminating when Aminata meets Queen Charlotte and refers to her as having a broad nose, wide lips and richer complexion than the paintings. These claims are, scientifically, of little to no validity, make little sense logically and, to me, sully the historical accuracy of the novel since in Hill’s historical notes he does not mention altering this historically. The claim that Queen Charlotte has African blood is based on two pieces of ‘evidence’. Firstly, they are based on the idea that Madragana, a 13th century mistress of a Portuguese king, was Queen Charlotte’s 16th Great Grandmother. Even if this is true Madragana would only equal 0.006 percent of Queen Charlotte’s inheirated DNA and would hardly cause her to have African features. Furthermore, Madragana was a moor, or a Berber-Arab (a major ethinic group in Morocco and Tunisia which are very close to Portugal), moors do not share visible genetic features with what one would generally consider an African. Madragana likely looked more Turkish than Guinean which makes the likelihood that Queen Charlotte looked at all like Aminata aside from basic human female shape slim to none.

Queen_Charlotte_by_studio_of_Allan_RamsayThe second piece of evidence that seems to support this claim is a painting by Scottish painter Allan Ramsay which appears to show Queen Charlotte with “mulatto” (half black/half white or more broadly, mixed race between African and European) features. There are many people who say that Ramsay painted the Queen with such features because he was an abolitionist and the idea that the Queen was part black herself lent itself rather nicely to abolishing the slave trade and slavery itself. It is genetically like that, even if Queen Charlotte had these sort of features, they were the result of her being a direct descendant of the Vandal ethnic group of Eastern Germanic origin. More on the PBS article which reignited this debate in modern times can be read here.

The Book of Negroes was an enjoyable read which I have already recommended to others, but from an analytical standpoint it has many flaws and fails to impress when compared the other literary greats which are often brought up in English classes.