Monday, 20 October 2014

Federal Writers Project

Upon reading this narrative, the first thing I noticed was the level of literacy "I'se 96 y'ars ole...". `Narcissus was born in Tennessee so it's likely the interviewer is reiterating her accent but also how poorly spoken she was, which was common amongst slaves. I would ask whether she was deliberately seeming 'Sambo' but the rest of the interview goes to say otherwise. 
Narcissus was "bawn into slavery", worked from a young age, raised in the house til "I wuz big 'nuff ter wuk out in de fiels wid de uthers", I can assume this was around five or six years old. "My missus taught me to sew, weave en spin", typical of many female slaves... and southern females of the time. "Mah mammy died when I wuz three y'ars ole". This is what changed my perception of her "slavery", throughout her interview she speaks about her masters with respect, is this because she had no mother/family to teach her otherwise? It seems she was raised as a slave and appreciated her upbringing but, it wasn't a harsh life "mah white folks sho gib me en de uther slaves plenty gud things ter eat, clothes good 'nuff fer anybody...we went ter parties en urther places, en watelse could I'se wan'?" This seems almost like family treatment over slave treatment. I'm especially surprised by this because she's in the South. Later on she refers to her masters as "the quality" when recounting how her and "all us Niggers run ter de cellar en hid" from Yankee soldiers at the property and again from the Ku Klux Klan. Whether she is referring to them as the "quality" because they are white and she has been raised to believe they are the superior race or because they aren't as harsh as other plantation owners is  open for interpretation. I'm inclined to believe it's the latter although I am a tad conflicted on that. I will come back to this.
The worse "whuppin" she ever received was for lying, her "Missus" said "she don' keer 'bout de two aigs, but dat she was gwine ter whup me fer tellin' a lie". This is clearly instilling standard white morals into an "inferior" race. This goes against what I (thought) I knew about slavery. Narcissus even mentioned that she deserved that "whuppin" and said she never stole from her Masters, there seems to be a mutual respect here, almost like family...  Even after freedom, all the other slaves left the plantation but she "stayed dare a long time" before moving on to other house jobs. Narcissus quite evidently has had a more sheltered slaved life than others but, it's quite clear that she knows her place and her identity. I found her view on inter racial marriages fascinating "I don't b'leeve in Niggers en whites ma'rrin...I'se b'leeves eberone should ma'ree in dare culor. I think de young people oh terday es dogs en sluts". She hasn't really explained why she thinks this, I thought this was a predominantly white ideology, not wanting to mix with what they thought at the time was an 'inferior' race, so this could mean that Narcissus has been raised with a white ideology, it could also imply (amongst other things) that fundamentally, slaves didn't want to mix with their enslavers. Ergo my earlier confliction. Whilst I found this brief two page interview fascinating, it completely contradicts the view of slavery that I previously had and poses several more questions. Why did all of the other slaves leave, did Narcissus have a preferential upbringing? Did her masters choose to raise over enslave? 

No comments:

Post a Comment