Slavery and the Literary Imagination

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Seven noted scholars examine slave narratives and the topic of slavery in American literature, from Frederick Douglass's Narrative (1845)-- treated in chapters by James Olney and William L. Andrews-- to Sheley Anne William's Dessa Rose (1984). Among the contributors, Arnold Rampersad reads W.E.B. DuBois's classic work The Souls of Black Folk (1903) as a response to Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery (1901). Hazel V. Carby examines novels of slavery and novels of sharecropping and questions the critical tendency to conflate the two, thereby also conflating the nineteenth century with the twentieth, the rural with the urban. Although works by Afro-American writers are the primary focus, the authors also examine antislavery novels by white women. Hortense J. Spillers gives extensive attention to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin , in juxtaposition with Ishmael Reed's Flight to Canada ; Carolyn L. Karcher reads Lydia Maria Child's A Romance of the Republic as an abolitionist vision of America's racial destiny. In a concluding chapter, Deborah E. McDowell's reading of Desa Rose reveals how slavery and freedom-- dominant themes in nineteenth-century black literature-- continue to command the attention of contemporary authors.