Fourth Reading Response

This reading starts off in London where Aminata has gone to a church service with one of the abolitionist leaders and she describes it as a purgatory or boredom. She is struck by the song that they are singing as it is one of the songs that the medicine man on the slave ship used to sing and she is trapped in memories of fear and misery before she faints. The difference in treatment towards her when she awakes to when she was on that ship is astounding as they are all concerned for her welfare and eagerly trying to assist her. The story then jumps back to her past to when her and Solomon Lindo are sailing for New York on a radically different sort of ship. Aminata rebuffs Lindo’s attempts at civility, preferring to keep her distance from them. During the voyage, she is challenged to play a game of chess with a white merchant which she wins and the merchant is furious that the money that was bet upon the outcome of the game being turned over to a Negro woman. When they arrive in New York, they go straight to the Fraunces Tavern but on the cart ride there, Aminata sees Canvas Town (the free black shanty town) for the first time. She meets Sam Fraunces and she confides in him that she is not going to be a slave for much longer as she thinks he can help. A little while later, they meet in her room and they discuss the possibility of an escape. That evening, she is taken by Lindo to see a black cellist play and she is entranced by the music but disgusted to realise that he is a slave. The next morning, Lindo leaves her at the tavern with the task of writing a letter. That morning there is a riot because the Rebels fought the Tories and won. Sam tells her that the moment is ripe and that if she is going to run then she should go now as the conflict will cause Lindo to need to return home. She runs away to the woods in the north of the city where she remains for a couple of days. She witnesses and participates in the burial of an African child in a way that hopefully its spirit will find its way back home. Aminata then comes back into the city and after living with Sam Fraunces for while, sets up a home in Canvas Town. She teaches black people how to read and write in a church and makes some new friends that way. During this period, Chekura finds her again and he has run away just like her; it is another joyful reunion. Once when she is returning from teaching, she is knocked down and almost raped by a ruffian white man but a man named Lieutenant Waters saves her. He employs her midwife skills with his black girl and she begins to catch babies again, charging a pound in silver for whomever can pay that price. She becomes employed by the British to write down all the names of the black people who will be able to leave New York for Nova Scotia when the British pull out of New York in a book called the Book of Negroes.

book of negroes

Chekura and Aminata move into the barracks where they conceive another child. Finally the time comes when they are to board a ship but just as they are about to leave, Aminata is forced to leave the ship as there is a claim against her. She tells Chekura to stay on board as otherwise he will not be able to leave and she will find him in Nova Scotia. After spending two days in prison, she is taken to the Fraunces Tavern for a trial. Robinson Appleby is present and makes a claim that she is still his slave. She tells the justice that she had been sold to Lindo and then lies by saying he manumitted her in 1775. Sam Fraunces finds Lindo and brings him to the room where he proves that she is his and also confirms that the sale of Mamadu was arranged at the same time. The justice is appalled at the terms of the sale and Lindo explains that he regrets it but did try to send the boy to a respected gentleman. She is given back to Lindo who frees her and asks to speak to her. She does not want to let his words poison her child and refuses. She then leaves on a ship to Port Roseway and hopes desperately to find Chekura once there. Nova Scotia is a disappointment, with the same negativity and prejudice toward blacks as when she was living in New York. The land that was promised to them does not come and they are stuck living in the town they make, called Birchtown. Slave owners sailed in to town and tried to reclaim their slaves. It was a hard life and she couldn’t hear anything of Chekura. She gives birth to a daughter and names her May. While working in town in the printer shop, she meets a woman named Alverna Witherspoon whom she begins to work for as well. There is a riot in the town because of the large amount of jobless white men and Aminata takes refuge at the Witherspoon’s house. After the riot ends, she leaves her daughter with them and goes back to Birchtown to see what damage has been done. When she returns for her daughter 2 days later, there is no one home and the furniture is gone. The Witherspoons left the town with some other white families on a ship and they have taken May with them.

This reading had some ups and downs for me. I was very excited when Aminata ran away from Lindo and overjoyed to see Chekura again. It was wonderful that finally they are free to live together and not have a fear of separation hanging over them. Some parts of this reading confused me. The rape scene was so random I felt whiplash while reading it and most of the reading felt almost like filler. As it is a story of her life, it is obvious that not all of her life will be exciting however as a novel this part fell very flat. From the beginning I have found it very hard to relate to her life, having never had anything like it happen to me. But this part of the book was just a regular, if hard, life. Her experiences during this section of the book are not much different to household servants or just regular people’s lives. White people living in England at this time were not all wealthy merchants and they had to work just as she did. In fact, many white people had a much tougher life than she did. For example, when the pioneers were driving out across the Wild West in covered wagons with only a few possessions and their families, they had much less than Aminata at this point in the book. She is no longer a slave and as such I viewed her problems during this section with a different eye. At the end of the reading when her child is taken from her yet again I felt sad but also a bit exasperated. Must she lose family members in each reading? It is repetitive and although it is a terrible tragedy, it almost feels excessive from a novel standpoint, almost like oh we need a new tragedy now to stop this from being boring.. hmmmm HOW ABOUT WE TAKE AWAY HER FAMILY AGAIN? I hope that the next reading has something that changes up the pattern.

 

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4 thoughts on “Fourth Reading Response

  1. 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.

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  2. Considering that this is a fictional story, it’s absolutely true that Lawrence Hill could have used the great length of his book to vary the experiences of Aminata more, rather than focusing on very repetitive aspects. I understand that he wished to really hammer in the unending misery of the slave’s life, but this could also have been achieved by actually taking time to focus on her sufferings after they occur. Rape, the loss of her children, witnessing the death of her parents, these are nearly all taken in a stride and rarely revisited during the narrative, rather odd considering the traumatic weight of these events.

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  3. I agree with a lot of your reflection points – the third attempted rape really did come out of nowhere and only served as a bonding/introductory moment for Malcolm Waters to burst heroically onto the page. Lawrence Hill is certainly repetitive – you’re not wrong, he is very fond of removing Aminata from those she loves. The one saving grace Hill has is that when he writes about Aminata losing her children and husband, he is not far from the (historical) mark. Many slaves and former slaves lost their families to various causes, though not generally through circumstances as spectacularly grandiose as within this book. Mamadu’s abduction earlier in the novel wasn’t an uncommon occurance; Chekura’s death by drowning certainly was, as was, to a point, May’s kidnapping. May’s disappearance came as a surprise personally but not historically – her entire story arc here was solely written for the purpose of having Aminata, alone and somewhat hopeless, finally leave North America behind and journey back to Africa.

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  4. I found your explanation of how the novel began to flat line during this section, to be very accurate. I also felt that the repetitive nature of Aminata just living merely from tragedy to tragedy, to be quite uninteresting and I had to read this reading in short bursts to keep up my interest levels. I think Hill did an excellent job with the settings of the novel because of his extensive research, and he did a great job with delivering the themes to the reader, but I found the characterization and the plot to be weak points in the story. The weak development of characters other then Aminata (even important ones like Chekura), and the repetitive plot were the aspects that distanced me most from the story. I really liked how you explained this in your personal response :).

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