Longfellow’s “The Slave Singing at Midnight”: A White Man’s Depiction of the Enslaved in 1842

by Kathryn Bauer

America, as a new nation, struggled to find unity as a result of the peoples’ immense divide over the institution of slavery.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Slave Singing at Midnight” assists readers in understanding the progression of an emergent American cultural voice away from the institution of slavery and moving towards abolishment, while still illuminating the inequality faced by the enslaved, due to White American’s ignorance.

While on a trip home from overseas, Longfellow crafted, “The Slave Singing at Midnight”, as part of a thirty-page pamphlet, composed of eight poems focused on the abolishment of slavery.  Ironically, Longfellow’s work encompasses a focus on an enslaved person, despite the fact it is written by Longfellow, a White American male.  The poem commences with the enslaved person singing Biblical psalms from The Old Testament:

“Loud he sang the psalm of David!/ He, a Negro and enslaved,/ Sang of Israel’s victory,/ Sang of Zion, bright and free” (Longfellow 1-4).

At a time when Blackface was heavily present in America, it was commonly believed that enslaved persons simply sang jolly tunes for amusement, Longfellow represents a common White American, as he acts shocked of the religious content of the enslaved person’s song as shown by his use of an explanation point after, “Loud he sang the psalm of David!”.  The mention of the psalm of David, a piece of religious text from The Old Testament, in which it is stated that God is always present and protecting over his people, depicts that enslaved persons utilize song, much differently from how Longfellow, and other White Americans believe.  Enslaved persons use the inspiring stories of “Israel’s victory” and “Zion”, the Holy City, and later in the poem, from The New Testament, the story of “Paul and Silas”, in which the suppressed group puts their faith in God and is, in turn, is victorious over their oppressors.  This illustrates how the enslaved persons sang songs as a way to demonstrate their faith and the hopefulness of freedom they contain at this time in America, a very different fact from the common White American’s belief.

Additionally, the poem, written in 1842, encompasses characteristics of the late 18th, early 19th century style of Romanticism, centering on the imagination and emotions.  Longfellow concentrates on the inner world of himself, as well as the enslaved person:

“And the voice of his devotion/ Filled my soul with strange emotion;/ For its tones by turns were glad,/ Sweetly solemn, wildly sad” (Longfellow 13-16).

The enslaved person’s dreams of freedom and hopefulness resulting from organized religion is depicted by “the voice of his devotion”.  The idea that this voice prompts Longfellow to feel “solemn” and “sad”, rather than share the hopefulness of the enslaved person, suggests that the ideals of freedom and equality for enslaved persons at this time in America are still not yet present.  The extreme juxtaposition of emotion between the two very different individuals, highlights the lack of understanding of the enslaved person from the White Man, in this case and on a much grander scale.

As America is becoming a prominent nation, it is still being restrained by its racial ideologies.  The theme of hopefulness, not just that the new nation will succeed, but also in the view of the enslaved persons for equality and freedom, as a result of the close connection between religion and abolishment, illustrates the cultural values of the emergent American voice.  In Longfellow’s poem, the cultural vales are depicted through the main focus and content of the poem: the enslaved person singing of inspiring Biblical pslams, and the Romantic style, which depict the attempts of the growing understanding and acknowledgement of the enslaved persons by White Americans.  The Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, is on the horizon for the American people, and Longfellow’s, “The Slave Singing at Midnight” shows that America is making large strides in the right direction, leading up to this major decision.


the lord and jordan

Howard Finster’s 1976 enamel painting, “The Lord Will Deliver His People Across Jordan”, showcased at The Smithsonian American Art Museum, is a perfect representation of the ties between religion and abolishment, as well as the theme of hopefulness.  The Lord is depicted in this image delivering Joshua and the Israelites from their oppressors through their devotion to Christ.  The Lord’s followers encompass a parallel suppression to the enslaved persons in growing America at the time of Longfellow’s poem in 1842.  Taking a close look at the painting, strong diction, “Brutes”, “Killing” and “Hate”, are painted in the lower half of the painting, illustrating the struggles of Joshua and the Israelites while oppressed.  In early America, White Americans share this same adverse diction toward the enslaved persons, due to their ignorance of the enslaved persons knowledge and understanding, restricted through a racial lens.  Moreover, God is presented in the image as a passageway for Joshua and the Israelites into a land of “Kindness”, “Love”, and “Peace”, present on the upper half of the painting, representing God’s deliverance.  This is comparable to the enslaved person’s belief that if he sings these songs of faith, he too will be delivered, from enslavement.  Lastly, in the center of the painting, “Things must be better just over Jordan…I want hafto cross Jordan alone… The Lord will deliver his people across Jordan”, symbolize the idea of hope, Joshua and the Israelites, as well as the enslaved persons, all, share the belief in the saving power’s of religion.  The have faith that their situation will better through the works of religion.  


Works Cited

Fisher, Miles. Negro Slave Songs in the United States. Read Books Ltd., 2013. 1-20. Print.

Longfellow, Henry, Wadsworth. “The Slave Singing at Midnight” Poems on Slavery.            Cambridge: John Owen, 1842. Print.

McKivigan, John R. “Revival Religion and Anti-Slavery Politics” History of the American Abolitionist Movement. Garland Publishing Inc., 1999. 379-391. Print.


Emily Dickinson and the Civil War’s Relationship with Death

by Chanina Wong

Emily Dickinson’s most celebrated poem “Because I could not stop for Death” has its narrator recall the day Death finally collected her to take her to the afterlife in the form of “Eternity”. Death is personified as a carriage driver, considerate for the speaker’s reluctance to take the journey to the grave with him. The journey to eventual eternity is slow, but the speaker and death complete their journey as they recall her life before death:

“We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –“ (Dickinson 9-12).

This stanza symbolizes the passing of different stages of life: being in school as a child (childhood), the grain that grows to be harvested (maturity and adulthood), and eventual death with the “Setting Sun”. The imagery of the process of dying is not abrupt or harsh, it is tranquil and slow, significant through the portrayal of a carriage ride that demonstrates the time that passes until its end, or the end of the journey with Death.

Little information is found regarding actual inspiration of Dickinson’s work and her overall relation to 19th century American life. She wrote a large majority of her work during the span of the Civil War, and though it is difficult to gain evidence of the direct influence the war had on her work, her many letters refers to her relationships with those involved with the Civil War, proving it affected her, too (“Emily Dickinson and the Civil War”). The Civil War marked the U.S.’ “new relationship with death, entering into a civil war that proved bloodier than any other conflict in American history” (Faust xi). Americans in the 19th Century were concerned with their ideals of death and salvation after the occurrence of death, signifying the strong belief in the importance of an afterlife that is to be eternal. The Civil War, with its sheer amount of deaths and carnage, violated “prevailing assumptions about life’s proper end—about who should die, when and where, and under what circumstances” (Fuast xii). It was commonplace for Americans during the Civil War to speak of the newly percieved “work of death”, meaning what is means to kill, coming to terms that the soldier’s job is to take life, but also consciously anticipating death, which requires participation and action. Dickinson’s work is thematically centered around death and its occurrence, similarly concerned with the responsibility of the process of actually dying like most Americans that experienced the Civil War.

Soldiers started anticipating their death, as displayed by their writing of condolence letters to their family, providing the “good death” where their loved ones were “virtual witnesses to the dying moments they had been denied” (Faust 15). Similar to how Dickinson wrote in her poetry the final moments before death, camp hospital nurses and doctors administered the important final rituals one’s family would perform on their dying loved one, focusing on the finality of life as the person dying expresses their last words. Death is meaningful due in part of the process of closure, while still maintaining the humanity of the dying into the eternal afterlife.

Trademark to Dickinson’s work is her constant use of dashes. Seemingly more powerful than a comma, the dash causes one to pause—to halt the smooth rhythm typical of a poem that one craves. But Dickinson also utilizes the dash immediately after the very last word of the poem, suggesting that the poem is still to continue and to never stop:

“I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity—“ (Dickinson 23-24).

There is irony in eternity after death, which is actually caused once the opposing temporary mortal life is over, and her dashes emphasize such contradiction. Death may require closure for the living, but it is also believed to be the start of the continuation of a different type of living. They reinforce “a visual sense of the gap between the two worlds, the earthly and heavenly, and emphasizes the endlessness of infinity” (Clews). Death is to be meaningful as it is the entrance into an eternal afterlife, a different type of living. When Civil War soldiers would die, they would die in a distant battlefield from their family and be left to rot with maggots and deformed by bullets. This new form of dying signifies its uncertainties of the afterlife. Did disfigurement of the body affect how the body is in heaven? Is the peace of the afterlife affected by the desolation of the war? And due to these uncertainties, the perception of death and life after death changes and altars according to tradition and time. The Civil War changed that perception, and Dickinson’s work reflects such concern as death touched every side of the war.



Frida Kahlo’s The Dream (The Bed), 1940, she represents death through the separate perception of Mexican culture, which is celebrated instead of mourned for, as seen in the holiday Dia de los Muertos. Kahlo’s own life was marred with heartache through her tumultuous relationship with her unfaithful husband, Diego Rivera, and multiple health problems caused by a bus accident when she was eighteen. She awaited death as she mirrors the skeleton atop the canopy of her bed, laced with fireworks waiting to explode. Similar to beliefs surrounding the Civil War, the afterlife brings a sense of renewal from a desolate life, as signified through the green leaves and plants that surround a dying Kahlo, symbolizing the rebirth of life.

Works Cited

Clews, Helen. “The panther in the glove: Emily Dickinson: Helen Clews offers some ways of approaching this fascinating but difficult American poet.” The English Review 13, no. 4 (2003): 14+. Literature Resource Center (accessed November 6, 2017). http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=LitRC&sw=w&u=new67449&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA99908886&asid=eeeea01510a413d5c6791244b98e0a7a.

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I could not stop for Death (476).” Poets.org. July 05, 2016. Accessed November 06, 2017. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/because-i-could-not-stop-death-479

“Emily Dickinson and the Civil War.” Emily Dickinson Museum. 2009. Accessed November 06, 2017. https://www.emilydicksinsonmuseum.org/civil_war.

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and The American Civil War. New York: Vintage Books, 2009.

Kriedler, Michele L. 2009. “Emily Dickinson “Because I Couth Not Stop for Death.” Literary Contexts in Poetry: Emily Dickinson’s ‘Because I Could Not Stop For Death’ 1. Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed November 6, 2017).

“The Dream (The Bed), 1940 – by Frida Kahlo. 2011. Accessed November 06, 2017. https://www.fridakahlo.org/the-dream-the-bed.jsp.

Rip Van Winkle and how American culture is linked to other cultures

By Joao Cunha

Rip Van Winkle is a story based on the changes of post-revolutionary war America. Rip after his 20-year slumber is unable to adjust to an independent nation. When Rip was asked who he voted for in the election, he was puzzled.

He did eventually answer, “I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the king, God bless him!” (Irving, 12)

This response nearly set the citizens of the Catskills into a riot, as it brought up a distant past they wanted no part of.  Rip had a hard time adjusting to the present, as his friends died fighting the British in the revolutionary war. (Irving, 12)

His  “heart died away” hearing the stories of friends dying at war, and he was “puzzled” by this new America. (Irving, 12)

However after getting settled and meeting his daughter Judith he became a reference point as a symbol of the old times”before the war” (Irving, 15) This story demonstrates America’s evolution and its independence from Britain. Rip being Dutch and a foreign figure is vital as he’s seen as a separate part of America. He was very different from the people in post-war America. His famed “idleness” was seen as a part of a separate America, one that is in the past that in that present that seemed foreign to the Catskills.  However the story is not just influenced by America, its roots are in Dutch art as well. Irving’s fascination with Dutch art had an impact on his work, as his text was full of “coloring of language” (Zlogar, 44). His descriptive story is inspired by the Dutch artwork that he admired. (Zlogar, 44-45) so the work is still dependent in other cultures, it’s not a purely “American work” but one that is influenced by other cultures. America’s need for independent in a culture is manifested in the story Rip’s desire to escape yet neither Rip nor America can escape this dependency in others.

Rip Van Winkle

This was a famous painting depicting Rip Van Winkle after he wakes up from his slumber. He has his long beard and is clearly aged in the painting, Yet Rip is still seen as a statesman like figure, pointing his staff in defiance. Which shows that Rip is imagined to be a powerful figure even after spending 20 years asleep. The painting was done by John Quidor who was a great admirer of Washington Irving’s work. In fact he worked on several works of art that were related to Irving. 1829 was the year that his painting was completed

Irving using Rip as a symbol tried to reconcile America’s a fledgling republic yet at the same time acknowledging its foreign roots. Rip’s awakening was an allegory for America’s own realization that it is a country that is indepedent yet needs others to produce its own culture. America’s British roots, Dutch artwork were a part of the “dependency” of America’s cultural production. This cultural production was inextricably linked to the what many Americans saw themselves as. As Terence Martin noted, “The United States was new but a self-consciously old nation” (Martin,137). This “consciousness” that Americans had explains why they wanted to separate themselves from the past, as they wanted to believe in “progress” both culturally and as a new nation.(Martin, 137) In many ways that is why Rip becomes a old relic to the catskills, as a reminder and warning of the past America had left behind. The reconciliation of the town and Rip is complete, as Rip tells his story to “every stranger that arrived in Mr. Doolittle’s hotel” (Irving, 15).Irving through this reconciliation is able to bridge a connection to America’s past and that time period, and shows the interdependency between history and culture. Rip wasn’t just a separation of America, he became the link between the past and the present in the story. Rip woke up to the reality of a different world, in the same way America woke up and slowly reconciled the fact that it may not be culturally independent.  

Works Cited

Quidor, John, “Rip Van Winkle”, Art Institute of Chicago. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/97873

Irving, Washington. “Rip Van Winkle”, Short Story America, 1-16. http://www.shortstoryamerica.com/pdf_classics/irving_rip_van_winkle.pdf

Martin, Terence. “Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination.” American Literature 31, no. 2 (1959): 137-49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2922559?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Zlogar, Richard J. “”Accessories That Covertly Explain”: Irving’s Use of Dutch Genre Painting in “Rip Van Winkle”.” American Literature 54, no. 1 (1982): 44-62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2925720?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

An Awakening of Moral Conscience

by Jimmy Lu

anonymous rench print

Anonymous French print, 1814
During the War of 1812 the British recruited enslaved Blacks in America in return for guaranteed freedom from their masters.  Here the British are burning down Washington and the plantation farm tools. The image depicts two Black men who are eager to join the British cause and turn their backs against pro-slavery America. One is dressed in an elegant British jacket and the other is equipped with a sword, which symbolizes his empowerment and elevated human status. Both men desire freedom through the Royal Army. White-Americans could celebrate their freedom and collectively fight against Britain; but according to Frederick Douglass, the enslaved person was a “constant victim” in America (Fourth of July Speech). These Black men would be eager to side with the British for freedom from their masters. The Black men could not sympathize with the American cause, especially since it enslaved and oppressed them.

Every year Americans celebrate Independence Day in remembrance of the arduous political struggle for freedom and independence from Britain. In Frederick Douglass’ time nineteenth-century Independence Day carried a different meaning for Black people in America as he claimed in his “Fourth of July Speech.” White-Americans enslaved Blacks in a society that ironically upheld freedom. In fact, Independence Day for Blacks was “problematic … so long as white Americans continued to keep millions of slaves in chains” (Slate). Douglass’ speech, which was given on July 5th, 1852, calls for an awakening of America’s moral conscience in order to challenge America’s unjust and immoral status quo and to excite societal reformation.

The speech calls for a social and political revolution in order to challenge the unjust status quo in America: slavery and disenfranchisement. Douglass references the Founding Fathers as courageous examples:

“But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, … [pronounced] the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and … not to be quietly submitted to” (Fourth of July).

He criticizes the ideas of “this day,” noting passive acceptance of unjust government in America.  Douglass promotes the Founding Fathers’ courage who preferred “revolution to peaceful submission” to an unjust status quo of British colonialism (Fourth of July). The speech is a call to action for American people to take responsibility for their government, and they ought to support causes such as abolitionism and universal enfranchisement in order to create a more just society.

In order to excite reformation, Douglass points out the immorality of slavery and its deleterious effect on the image of America. Douglass condemns slavery using strong rhetoric:

“I will … dare to call in question and to denounce … everything that serves to perpetuate slavery–the great sin and shame of America! … I will use the severest language I can command …” (Fourth of July).

He shames America for sanctioning slavery, and according to Abigail Censky, this criticism was in the wake of the Compromise of 1850 which equaled the “nationalization of slavery” (NPR). Douglass labels slavery as “sin,” which adds a moral appeal to abolitionism; and the audience, especially women, could sympathize with societal oppression and restrictions. According to James West Davidson, Rochester was the “epicenter of the so-called burned-over district, a region along the Erie Canal swept repeatedly by religious revivals and reform(Slate). The setting and audience of this speech are significant for garnering support for abolitionism. He uses the severest language because he wants Americans to fight against slavery through the democratic process.

In order to awaken the moral conscience of his audience, Douglass presents the Black perspective on the 4th of July, and he points out America’s hypocrisy. Douglass poses a question to his audience:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than. all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which lie is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham … There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States … (Douglass)

According to Censky, Frederick Douglass posed this question to “500-600 abolitionists,” and the crowd at the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society was “enthusiastic, voting unanimously to endorse the speech at its end” (NPR). This is significant for understanding why Douglass voices vociferous criticisms of the American status quo in his speech: white-Americans could celebrate their nation’s independence, but Blacks had yet to gain their emancipation. Douglass is pointing out the hypocrisy of white-Americans who are celebrating an unfinished cause, and he puts America to shame in an international context by saying that “there is not a nation on the earth.” For him, Americans ought to awaken their moral conscience and emulate the Founding Fathers who “staked their lives … on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests” (Douglass). Similarly, Douglass lives selflessly by speaking and fighting for abolitionism. He encourages Americans to continue the legacy of challenging an immoral status quo and to never lose sight of the power of the democratic process.

The abolitionist movement sought to reform America’s unjust and immoral status quo of slavery, which Douglass brings to attention through his appeal to religious morality. His vehement attacks on America’s complacency and hypocrisy seek to awaken his audience’s conscience in order to fight for the unfinished cause of universal freedom.

Works Cited

Censky, Abigail. “’What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?’ Frederick Douglass, Revisited.” NPR. 17 Jul. 2017. 5 Nov. 2017. <http://www.npr.org/2017/07/05/535624532/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july-frederick-douglass-revisited&gt;

Davidson, James West. “The Best Fourth of July Speech in American History” Slate. 2 Jul. 2015. 5 Nov. 2017. <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2015/07/fourth_of_july_revisiting_frederick_douglass_s_fiery_speech.html&gt;

Douglass, Frederick. “Fourth of July Speech” Lee, Mann & co.. 5 Jul. 1852. 5 Nov. 2017. <http://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/2945&gt;

Ambrose Bierce and the New American Death

By Jelson Mendoza

From the very beginning of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce there is a sense of hopelessness in face of the raw strength of nature over man.

“A man stood upon a railroad bridge in Northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below.” (Bierce 1)

In the same manner, the American Civil War prompted a new growth in the endless struggle of man against man in which society itself found itself in awe of its own destructive potential. Simply put, there is good reason for many historians to consider the Civil War to be the first modern war in its context of total war, new rifling techniques, ironclad ships and repeater rifles.


A relatively modern day photograph of the type of railroad bridge depicted in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” taken by David M. Owens. The support beams below the actual bridge shows complete and utter negligence, a clear parallel to the unwanted and nameless nature of death on the battlefield during the American Civil War, essentially showing that even structures such as this one cannot be given an ideal “burial” or retirement. The scars of time like any veteran who returned home after the carnage of battles such as Antietam or Vicksburg, are extremely clear by the rust and graffiti.  

One of the mainstays of discussions regarding “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is the nature of death in the story and how unceremoniously the main character, Peyton Fahrquhar’s body is left hanging on the bridge itself. This reflects other real life stories of unceremonious burials and lack of veneration towards enemy dead on both sides of the conflict. The lead up to his death also seems to indicate a level of mockery in that Bierce himself appears to hold no respect for a dead Confederate guerilla as Professor Loren P.Q Baybrook states, ” The strange “whispers” he had been hearing were, in the clinical perspective of asphyxiation, the gasps emanating from that same tongue. Farquhar is literally choking on his own tale.” (Baybrook).

“Peyton Fahrquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek bridge.” (Bierce 6)

However, in the same vein as the gross finality and lack of veneration towards his death, Bierce describes the motion of his corpse as “gentle” and in some ways demonstrates a desire for a simpler time when warfare was seen as a “gentleman’s game”. However by the time of the Civil War, there was no going back to romanticism of warfare as David Faust points out,

“A focus of wonder and horror, battle sites in fact became crowded with civilians immediately after the cessation of hostilities: besides relatives in search of kin, there were scavengers seeking to rob the dead, entrepreneurial coffin makers and embalmers…” (Faust 85)

Surely, previous wars going so far back as that of the Roman Empire were privy to battlefield looters and other abuses of the dead, but in the very specific scope of 19th century America, the nature of death had changed. In the end, with modern war came modern means of coping with the effects such as the Red Cross and nurses who in the stead of mothers would see to it that each soldier would have a “peaceful” death. In the end, this notion of a peaceful death even in face of trauma was a response to changing and malleable definitions of how one can die “honorably” (and in some way mockery and predatory practices such as coffin makers appearing in the aftermath of a battle) if such a condition ever existed in the first place.








Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Baybrook, Loren P.Q. “DANCING DRIFTWOOD IN “AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE”.” Loren P. Q. Baybrook on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. 2005. Accessed November 06, 2017. http://www.ambrosebierce.org/journal1baybrook.html.

Harriet Jacobs’ Account of Sexual Abuse

By: Kyle Laguerre

Harriet Jacobs was born a black enslaved person, but eventually managed to escape to freedom.  In her autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the chapters titled “The Trials of Girlhood” and “The Jealous Mistress” are significant because of the attention it brings to the commodification and exploitation of enslaved women’s sexuality.   While some narratives mention sexual abuse, they tend to leave out the details from the enslaved women’s perspective. This tends to happen because many of these accounts are either taken from the male perspective or were too painful for female authors to recount in full detail.  Jacobs’ narrative is unique because it provides a first person account into the events leading to the sexual abuse of enslaved women and how social dynamics affected its occurrence.  She goes on to describe these occurrences as such:

“She listens to violent outbreaks of jealous passion, and cannot help understanding what is the cause. She will become prematurely knowing in evil things. Soon she will learn to tremble when she hears her master’s footfall. She will be compelled to realize that she is no longer a child. If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse” (Jacobs 45-46)

This account shows how young enslaved girls lost their innocence far too early just from bearing witness to the sexual abuse that would take place around them. As a result many enslaved women learned how to use their sexuality to their advantage. These advantages ranged from leniency when it came to work and the higher probability that they could keep their children especially if they happened to be father by the slave master.  In Sarah Sherman’s analysis of Jacobs’ narrative she states “The ideology of woman’s innate “piety, purity, submis- siveness and domesticity” could be a significant weapon against male aggression, but it also opened new areas of vulnerability” (170). She is saying that through the submission of the enslaved women’s sexuality they could use that to their own advantage against the men who enslave them.  Jacobs actually gained the ability to read by entertaining the sexual advances of Dr. Flint, the man who had enslaved her, which she recounts stating:

“One day he caught me teaching myself to write. He frowned, as if he was not well pleased, but I suppose he came to the conclusion that such an accomplishment might help to advance his favorite scheme. Before long, notes were often slipped into my hand. (Jacobs 49-50)



A visit from old mistress

A Visit From Old Mistress:  This painting was created by Winslow Homer in 1876, over a decade after the conclusion of the American Civil War.  Through the painting Homer intended to reflect the relationship between slave women and their former master, now mistress.  This piece displays the lasting effects of the structural power dynamic that took place during slavery. While these women are technically free and employed by the mistress the same oversight occurred during slavery still takes place.  The situation in painting relates to the Trials of Girlhood and the Jealous Mistress chapters in Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, because both highlight how slave women found solace in each other and how the women of the free households would often keep tabs on them, often fearing them as sexual competition.

While the toleration of sexual advances might have granted leniency in non-sexual ways from the men in the households, enslaved women gained the scorn of their wives and mistresses in turn.  Jacobs was not outwardly forced to participate in sexual behavior, but was consistently harassed by Dr. Flint.  This was mainly because Flint wanted to save face around his wife and the people they had enslaved, especially since Jacobs was closer in age to his own children. Concerning relations between the women they enslaved, saving face was not uncommon among many slave masters.  While it was frowned upon, it was such a common practice that many mistresses would take it out on the enslaved women, despite the fact the vast majority were unwilling participants.  Jacobs describes this hypocrisy stating:

“The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage” (Jacobs 45)

Overall Adrienne Davis states it best when she says “The political economy of slavery systemically expropriated black women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity for white pleasure” (105).  This systemic abuse created a damaging lasting effect on the way black women were perceived sexually.  Slave narratives like Jacobs’ are so important because they dismantle the negative perceptions surrounding black women by showing how they have been victims for generations.


Jacobs, Harriet A. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, ed. Jean Fagan Yellin.” Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press80 (1987): 44-58.

Sherman, Sarah Way. “Moral Experience in Harriet Jacobs’s “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”.” NWSA Journal 2, no. 2 (1990): 167-85. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4316015.

Davis, Adrienne. “‘Don’t Let Nobody Bother Yo’Principle’: The Sexual Economy of American Slavery.” Sister circle: Black women and work (2002): 103-27.

Davis’s Call to Laborer’s Harsh Reality

By Sukhvir Singh:

Rebecca Harding Davis does not hold back when discussing the lives of immigrant factory and mill laborers in Life in the Iron-Mills. Narrating the life of Hugh Wolfe, a welsh immigrant who works as a furnace hand in a Kirby&John iron mill, the hardships and struggles that he faces apply to many individuals at this time. His life is a tragic but a common one amongst poor workers, who were often immigrants. Working long shifts for little money, and fighting the struggles of poverty like not always having enough to eat and not getting a break from work. Life in the 19th century urban setting was one filled with smoke and filth. As Davis explains in detailing the city in which Mr. Wolfe works,

“The idiosyncrasy of this town is smoke”.

A strong example for the lack of regulation and difficult working conditions is the well known hours and shift lengths the laborers endured through. Deborah after working a dozen hours at the spools, must deliver her cousin Hugh food to his iron mill which is located almost a mile away. Through the stormy and cold night she makes the journey there for him so he may eat the cold potatoes and have some stale ale for dinner. The circumstances made it easy for disadvantaged people like Wolfe to be caught in a never ending cycle of work. Mill owners and managers tied down the work force with contracts that included length of employment, often passed what was verbally agreed upon by the employer, a very low starting wage with the ‘opportunity’ of a raise, but that was a hopeless causes, and as Zonderman explains,

“These legal contracts were one of the commonest devices used for controlling the labor”.

People like Wolfe often had no other choice but to agree to the terms presented because jobs were scarce and long term employment was even rarer. Employers knew they could take their pick of the desperate work force and get away with unfair and unreasonable conditions and terms.
Labor injustices presented in Life in the Iron-Mills are rooted in a larger societal problem of the increasing gap between classes in antebellum America. In the poem, wealthy men like Mitchell and Kirby, who were the son and son in-law of Mr. Kirby, the factory owner make their rounds and comment on the unfortunate conditions of the workers but their tone and actions imply that they believe it is almost a natural happening, this division of wealth. For example, when Wolfe asks what make can make him happy, Kirby and Mitchell response is money, but when Wolfe asks them to spare some for him, they say they cannot help him.
The point of Davis writing this piece was to bring attention to the terrible conditions so many workers in america faced on a daily basis. Davis knew that to really call the american people and governments to action she had to highlight in detail the lives of people like Hugh Wolfe. To Davis, factories and industrialization represented a dark time, clear from the way she describes how smoke and residual effects of factories smother towns and cities. And to a degree Davis has a point, as Daniel notes when discussing nineteenth century labor,

“The ascendency of trade and commercial competition was accompanied by class conflict” .

This lifestyle was the foundation of many american and immigrant persons who simply wanted to make a living and although many took advantage of them, people like Rebecca Harding Davis took notice to what was happening and spoke up to make it known to spark change.


Wetherill &amp; Son White Lead Factory

The painting above is of a Wetherhill & Son lead and chemical factory located in Pennsylvania. This factory is relatively small and rather open than most mills and factories found during the mid nineteenth century yet the amount of smoke produced is clear. The painting showcases how much smog and filth these building brought with them to towns, and that no matter how harmful the work may have been to the laborers, especially during a time before health and safety codes and regulations, one would endure to be able to have a job and income.




Aspirations and Anxieties : New England Workers and the Mechanized Factory System,      1815-1850. Cary: Oxford University Press, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Daniel, Evan M. “Nineteenth-Century Labor and Radicalism.” Workingusa 17, no. 4 (December 2014): 597-603. Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed November 4, 2017).

Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron-Mills. (The Atlantic Monthly, 1861), 

Breton, William L., ca. 1773-1855. Wetherill & Brothers white lead manufactory & chemical works, corner of 12th & Cherry streets, Philadelphia.[Philadelphia]: Kennedy & Lucas]. 1831.


American Romanticism and the Gothic Features of Gelyna, 1828

By Andres Rodriguez


Thomas Cole, Gelyna (View From Ticonderoga), 1828

Thomas Cole is an American painter who is well-known for capturing the romanticism of the American landscape. Unlike most of his paintings, this specific painting has very dark, even Gothic symbolism. The dark black paint surrounding the picture which is caused from the cloud cover. The dead body of the British solider lying on the ground. The Gothic style of Edgar Allan Poe is significant in this painting because Thomas Cole captures the darkness of the American landscape. He also displays death by the British solider lying on the ground while another British solider on the left looks like he’s point something in the direction of the dead solider. He might be holding a gun or just pointing out that the solider is lying on the ground, possibly injured or dead. Nevertheless, the use of dark colors and the British solider lying on the ground creates a dark even Gothic theme of the painting while also capturing the American landscape of Fort Ticonderoga, New York.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic Identity during the 19th Century

By Andres Rodriguez

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most famous American writers of all time. There is no question that a majority of people in America have learned something about Edgar Allan Poe. If not, here is brief background of Edgar Allan Poe. He was born on January 19th, 1809 in Boston Massachusetts. Early in his life, his mother passed away from disease and his father left him also. He also had two siblings in which his brother also died due to disease. He winded up an orphan where he was taken in by a wealthy tobacco merchant family. His foster father never took his writing talents seriously. He finally met the love of his life, Virginia, in which his inspiration and motivation to write stemmed from her. Unfortunately, his beloved wife passed away from the same disease as his mother and brother died from, Tuberculosis. He lived in poverty and heartbreak until his death in 1849. The point is, Edgar Allan Poe suffered from overwhelming heartbreak due to deaths and loss, commonly the themes of many of his poems and short stories, like The Raven.

“It has puzzled many critics, sometimes to the point of vituperation, that Poe stands simultaneously as the germinal figure of a central modernist trajectory and as much-acknowledged pioneer of several durable mass-cultured genres, detective fiction and science fiction, as well as certain modes of sensational or Gothic horror, which are today…”  (02.) – Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe

Arguably his most famous poem, The Raven, gives America a new identity in terms of 19th Century Literature. America was desperately trying to gain an identity that differs from British or even French Literature. Edgar Allan Poe gave American literature an identity by writing in a Gothic style. Jonathon Elmer, author of Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe, mentions Poe’s Gothic style by describing many of his other “mass-cultured genres” (02.) Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe. In The Raven, the narrator is sitting on a chair at midnight when he hears knocking sounds, he winds up opening his window to check it out and a raven fly’s into his room. The narrator starts to speak to the Raven and the Raven winds up speaking but only says “nevermore.”

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams of no mortal ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness have no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘Lenore?’ This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘Lenore!’  Merely this and nothing more.” 5th Stanza, The Raven.

The narrator in The Raven, mentions fear and “dreams of no mortal ever dream” symbolizes how the Gothic style of horror due to the Raven in the poem. The literal speaking of the Raven gives a Gothic symbol but the only thing the Raven says is “nevermore.” The narrator mentions “Lenore” which in second stanza, he mentions “the lost of Lenore.” The narrator also keeps asking questions to the Raven during the poem but the Raven only says nevermore. The narrator eventually loses his mind by the end of the poem because he knows his beloved Lenore will be “nevermore” than before. The narrators suffering from his deceased  loved and the fear stemming from the talking Raven makes the poem a Gothic theme of death and loss.

“Like everyone else, however, Poe’s life had highs and lows during which he responded appropriately. During periods of tragedy or loss, Poe experienced bouts with grief. In moments of injustice, Poe expressed righteous anger. On the whole, Poe’s life could be called happy. He had his share of disappointments and tragedies, but he also succeeded at his only real ambition—to become a significant poet.” (31.) – Evermore; Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe.

Like I said before, Poe experienced many deaths from loved ones throughout his life. Like Harry Lee Poe, Author of Evermore; Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe, mentions how like almost every other person, Poe suffered many tragedies throughout his life. Harry Poe does mention that his suffering made him into a very “significant poet.” Edgar Allan Poe created a Gothic identity in which differed from British Literature. American Literature gained a new Gothic identity in the 19th century from Edgar Allan Poe’s creative and imaginative writings.


Elmer, Jonathon. “Introduction: The Figure of Mass Culture.” Reading at the Social Limit: Affect, Mass Culture, and Edgar Allan Poe. Stanford University Press, 1995, pp. 2–3. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=gDcRQLLk45MC&oi=fnd&pg=PR10&dq=raven+edgar+allan+poe&ots=5nCaSG7hjy&sig=RU6xFxaai_axR7KeGFH6DM-sCCQ#v=onepage&q=raven%20edgar%20allan%20poe&f=false

Poe, Harry Lee. Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 4, 2017).

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York City, NY: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2006.

A Nationalistic Narrative of the 1890s


The idea of politics dominating the news isn’t anything new. For centuries, American politics and world news come to dominate the front page of every newspaper and always cause massive attention. This fact remains true in the American political sphere of the 1890s. This was a decade where not only the omnipotence of America’s empire steadily increasing, but its ego as well. Events such as Wounded Knee, the Spanish-American War, and the Wilmington Race riots of 1898 represented an emerging white-supremacy ethos along with a growing sense of imperialism that encapsulated the country. The overall dominance of the country was on the rise which lead to a subsequent rise in national narcissism and arrogance. The newspapers portrayed their attitudes towards the central government in the form of political cartoons. These cartoons would be depictions of either political leaders or specific foreign affairs painted in a more literal and sometimes jocular sense. Many of these political cartoons of the 1890s were propaganda that promoted nationalism and patriotism. Other cartoons depicted the rise of imperialism that was apparent in this country as well. These cartoons did a great job of representing the pompous nature of the American government and put the white supremacist ethos in visual form.

Cartoon #1:  “Out of the Frying Pan”, Louis Dalrymple, 1898, Puck Magazine


This image is a classic example of pro-war propaganda during the 1890s. As tensions between America and Spain grew over the ownership of Cuba, the USA published cartoons such as this to gather support for the Cuban conquest. The cartoon depicts Cuba, a vulnerable and beautiful woman, looking for help as she is held in the frying pan of “Spanish Misrule”. Beneath her are the flames of anarchy, threatening her life. The woman, who looks very docile, is draped in the Cuban flag and looks like she is in need of guidance and assistance. The frying pan, on the other hand, is being held by a white hand, indicating that American (white, Anglo-Saxon) intervention is a necessity. There is a quote at the bottom of the cartoon lies a quote that says, “The duty of the hour-to save her not only from Spain- but from a worse fate”. By adding this quote to the cartoon, Dalrymple implied that this apparent “Spanish Misrule” was not only anarchy, but something that required American intervention. This cartoon most definitely inspired many Americans to the pro-war stance. At the end of the day, American intervention in the war lead to a fall of the Spanish state, and America got paid handsomely for their help. They were awarded new territories such as the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Although this military aggression seemed to be a giant step for American dominance, it breaks away from traditional American values. The United States broke away from their mother country, and promised to be a land of the free accompanied with natural born rights. After the war concluded, they absorbed many territories and stripped their inhabitants of their rights. A source from independent.org writes, “History taught that republics that engaged in frequent wars eventually lost their character as free states. Hence, war was to be undertaken only in defense of our nation against attack”(Raico 1).  America wasn’t under attack, but yet they still flexed their military muscles anyway.

Cartoon #2: “Uncle Sam and Little Aguinaldo- See Here Sonny, Whom are you going to throw these rocks at?”, Charles M. Bartholomew, 1898, Minneapolis Journal


This cartoon is a depiction of what is known as the Filipino Insurrection. After the Americans won control over the Philippines from the Spaniards, a man named Emilio Aguinaldo thought that the country would be set free and be left to govern how they so chose. Aguinaldo was the leader of a Filipino rebel guerilla group, and had his hand in helping the Americans defeat the Spanish. In this cartoon, America is depicted as Uncle Sam, the leering, dominant figure we see so heavily injected in American political cartoons. Uncle Sam is looking down angrily at little Aguinaldo, who is collecting rocks himself. The cartoon is meant to mock Aguinaldo, implying that he is too weak and too feeble to seriously run an independent country. In the background, a much smaller and goofily dressed figure represents Spain. He’s there on purpose to indicate that Spain isn’t in the equation anymore. Bartholomew is questioning the legitimacy of the Philippine empire, and he strongly believed that they were too immature to self-govern. The whole idea of Aguinaldo depicted as a child and collecting rocks is a direct shot at the “American” belief of a Philippine dynasty. To conclude, it is apparent that this political cartoon resonates with the same message as many of the other cartoons of the time: America is a dominant, pure force that is rightful in its conquest of land and territory in the islands.

Cartoon #3: “School Begins”, Keppler & Schwarzmann, 1899, Puck Magazine

School Begins Image

There is a lot to digest when close reading this cartoon. Ultimately, Uncle Sam is portrayed as a teacher in a extremely diverse school room. There are many different races depicted in this cartoon such as African-Americans, Native Americans, the Chinese, and the newest territories that America was granted (Puerto Rico, Guam, Philippines, and Hawaii). All of these students in the picture are represented as misguided, immature oddities that need the assistance of Uncle Sam (America). For example, there is a black student in the top right corner who is washing the windows. This depiction might be the most appalling, because the authors are implying that the black student should not even be in school and stick to slave-esque labor. The Native American is depicted as reading a book upside down. Us Americans tend to question the intelligence of most Native Americans due to their different lifestyles. The Chinese student is not even allowed in the classroom. This is consistent with the American attitude towards the Chinese of the era. We wanted to exclude them from all American ideals. Lastly, the children of the new territories are right in front of Uncle Sam’s desk, with Uncle Sam giving them his undivided attention. This is very similar to when a new kid moved to town and is getting adjusted to life in a new area. I didn’t mention the white students that were present in the cartoon as well. They are in the back of the class and reading like normal students. They have order and are doing everything the right way. The authors wanted to imply that all of these other races are hopeless and need American assistance in order to even act normally. Again, this ties back to the white-supremacy and nationalistic ethos that warped this country during the 1890s.



“American Foreign Policy: The Turning Point, 1898-1919 – Ralph Raico.” The Independent Institute, http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1345.