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"A for Abolition": Hawthorne's Bond-servant and the Shadow of Slavery

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Published in Journal of American Studies. 1991, vol. 25, no. 2, p. 255-259
Abstract In his 1862 essay "Chiefly about War-Matters" Hawthorne, in the guise of "a Peaceable Man," devotes as much of his attention to the plight of poor Southern whites as he does to the immediate motive for war: the condition of enslaved blacks. In fact, he writes that "[t]he present war is so well justified by no other consideration as by the probability that it will free this class of Southern whites from a thraldom in which they scarcely begin to be responsible beings."1 The Civil War is represented as a sign of the imminent regeneration of the entire brutalized Southern race and, further, as ushering in the long-promised age of genuine American democracy. This essay, in which Hawthorne's sentiments are so deeply buried beneath layers of irony, signifies unambiguously, if nothing else, the pervasiveness of a pro-slavery mentality that has little to do with the geographical division of North and South. His "Peaceable Man" takes pains to establish the historical status of American slavery as a phenomenon of very long standing and so makes us privy to "an historical circumstance, known to a few, that connects the children of the Puritans with these Africans of Virginia, in a very singular way." From the first settlement of New England, alternative destinies have been foreshadowed for the New World: in contrast to the "Cittie upon a Hill" which Puritan leaders interpreted as the glorious destiny of their experiment, ominous tokens of human depravity have suggested an American destiny that is no more than a repetition of Europe's mistakes. Hawthorne uses the vocabulary of typology to stress the historical determination of these alternative visions of national identity and to underline the inescapable nature of the consequences that follow from the choice between them. Together with his concern over the psychological enslavement of white Americans by the ideology of slavery, this passage sets out Hawthorne's attitude towards slavery as a national evil which demands a national penance.
Keywords Nathaniel Hawthorne"Chiefly about War-Matters"The Scarlet LetterUS slaveryEnslavementFounding Fathers
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MADSEN, Deborah Lea. "A for Abolition": Hawthorne's Bond-servant and the Shadow of Slavery. In: Journal of American Studies, 1991, vol. 25, n° 2, p. 255-259. https://archive-ouverte.unige.ch/unige:87860

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