Sea of Reads

Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.

An Evil That Corrupts All Morality

I’ve started reading Edward P. Jones’s The Known World. As usual with me when I pick up a new book, it was a little difficult getting into it at first, but that did not last long.

The first thing that jumps out at you with this book is its moral complexity. I can’t say much more than that yet, since I’m only on page 50, but for one thing I did not know before now that there even was such a thing as blacks owning slaves in the South. I knew that there were former slaves who had purchased their freedom, but not that some former slaves were actually permitted by whites to own their own slaves.

Beyond that, there is, of course, the larger question: Why would former black slaves have wanted to be slave-owners? I have a sense of one answer to that question already — just intuitively, it was the only path in that place and time to at least some degree of autonomy. It’s also clear that (as one would expect), the practice was not exactly popular among Southern whites in general. It seems to have been one of those realities of American slavery that wasn’t much discussed in “polite society.”

I have a lot more thoughts on this, but I will hold off for now, until I get further into the book.


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This entry was posted on February 20, 2010 by in Currently Reading.
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