Literary Criticism of the Works of William Wells Brown Research Paper

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William Wells Brown

The Work(s) of William Wells Brown; Clotel: or, the President's Daughter

One of the most discussed and controversial topics during the 18th and early 19th centuries were on slavery and slaves' trade. The American continent was one of the major participants in the trade. Being an American native, William Wells Brown is one of the African-Americans who endured the bitter fruits of slavery. Born into slavery within Lexington-Kentucky and having spent much of his youthful life in St. Luis, Brown physically witnessed the slavery life and experiences, an effect, which motivated him to advocate for slaves freedom. Consequently, William wrote several historical works (books), addressing the factors, occurrences and effects of slavery and slaves' trade on the African-American family lives. One of his historical works and the first novel published in 1853 was the Clotel; or, The President's Daughter (Paula 197).

Most of the scholars acknowledge that Brown's novel was the first African-American playwright to be published. In this book, William Wells Brown explores the destructive effects of slavery on the African-American families, the life difficulties of American mulattoes (people of the mixed race). He further elicits the immoral and degraded conditions relationships between the slaves and their masters (majorly females) in the United States of America (Alice 179). Brown uses female characters such as Currer, her daughters Clotel and Althesa, and Mary, to elucidate the experiences the female slaves underwent. He also uses male characters, such as Thomas Jefferson, Horatio Green, and Reverend Peck to show the relations that existed between the slaves and their masters.

After the fist publication in London in 1853, Clotel; or, The President's Daughter subsequently underwent substantial revisions and three title changes for the possible later editions released during the 1860s. Most interestingly, William Brown opens the novel with a curtailed version of his narrative "the Narrative of Life and Escape of William Wells Brown." Nevertheless, he presents this narration using a third-person's voice. Using this distinct style, Brown blends elements of his narration with various anecdotes, folk songs and duties, poetry, slave life vignettes, as well as newspaper account within the novel. Brown did not only take part in the promotion of abolitionist agenda, but also emphasized on the deleterious consequences of slavery on the family (Alice 231). Drawing upon the sentimental fiction conventions, Clotel emerges as the earliest novel of passing, that is, the novel within which the character portraying the African-American heritage passes as a white in order to flee from slavery and enjoy the gracious opportunities (Hover 262).

Brief Biography of William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown was a son to a white man and slave woman, born in a plantation close to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1814 principally living within and around St. Louis, Missouri up to the age twenty. William involuntarily exposed himself to slavery and experienced the slavery life within a wide-ranging working and social conditions (Andrews 276). He worked as a field slave, house servant and later hired out as an assistant to a printer, tavern keeper, and slaves trader- Walker James, who voyaged lengthily, travelled repeatedly to and from the slave market in New Orleans on River Mississippi. Following the subsequent failure of his two attempts to flee from the slave plantations, Brown managed to escape on his third attempt in 1834, aided by the flight of Quaker Wells Brown from Ohio into Canada (Andrews 243). This is the period William adopted his two names; Wells and Brown out of admiration and gratitude. Over the subsequent nine years, Wells worked aboard the Lake Erie Steamboat, besides acting as a conductor in the Underground Railroad, in Buffalo- New York (Paula 227).

Wells Brown became a famous African-American abolitionist, novelist, playwright, historian and a lecturer. After his escape to the North in 1834, Brown worked as an abolitionist and became a proficient writer. One of his novels the Clotel of 1853 emerged as the first and the best novel authored by an African-American; published in London, where he resided at that time. According Andrews, Brown spent the majority of his youthful life in St. Louis (412). His master leased him to work at the Missouri River, after which he became the major thoroughfare in the steamships. Wells was a pioneer in a number of diverse literary genres, including fictions, travel writings, and drama (Glenda 152). He was one of the first and early aspiring writers of the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame and owned a school named after him within Lexington- Kentucky.

Brown offered lectures for the abolition movements within the cities of Massachusetts and New York, after which, he focused on efforts channeled towards the anti-slavery movements (Paula 298). Many of his speeches focused and attacked the presumed American ideals of Democracy. Such speeches expressed and proved his beliefs in the moral power of suasion and the essentiality of being a non-violent nation. Similarly, Brown often refuted the American idea of black inferiority. During the 1847, Wells published a memoir titled, the "Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive slave, written by Him." This memoir became the second best seller, only after the Fredrick Douglass' Slave Narrative. He evaluates his master's lack of Christian nature and values, and the brutal application of violence in the slave-master relations.

While living in Britain, Brown wrote additional works, including plays and travel accounts, particularly defining the plight of mulattoes born to the households of slave masters, and the general life of an African-American. Following the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Brown's life was at risk within the United States since he was an escaped slave. This made him seek for safety and flee to England where he stayed for years before publishing his first historical work; the Clotel. This novel granted him gratitude and respect within England where many scholars acknowledged William Brown as the first African-American playwright. Other samples of his literary and historical works include The Black-man; His Antecedents, His Genius, and Achievements of 1863, The Negro in the American Rebellion of 1867, The Rising Son of 1873, and My Southern Home of 1880 (Paula 153).

Owing to his reputation as an influential orator, Brown received an invitation to the National Convention of the Colored Citizens, where he interacted with other prominent abolitionists (Andrews 286). He opted to remain independent when the Liberty Party formed, nailed onto a belief that the abolitionist movements had the obligation of avoiding the entrenchment into politics. Brown carried on supporting the Garrisonian approach to the abolition of slavery, and shared his personal insights and experiences in the slavery, all with an aim of convincing others natives to support abolition movements. Brownian fight against slavery and slaves' trade remains as a historical legacy to the Americans (especially to the Negros), and his literary and historical works still earns him a reputation to date, as the African-Americans who fought for the freedom of the colored or black Americans.

Literature Review

The novel, Clotel: or, the President's Daughter explores the vicious effects of slavery on the African-Americans, life difficulties of the mulattoes, and the underrated and immoral relation of masters and their slaves within the United States. It is all about a tragic story of a mulatto woman known as Currer, and her two daughter; Clotel and Althesa, together with their white father; Thomas Jefferson. Upon the death of Jefferson, their relatively comfy lives come to an end. Wells' context encompasses a range of tragic mulatto characters; however, Currer, Clotel and Althesa emerges the most prominent within the novel. The author uses them to represent the general life a mulatto woman leads, and the relation between the mulatto women and their slave masters. Through these characters, Brown reveals the vices of sexual harassment, mistreatment and the condition of relationship, which existed between the mixed-race women and their masters, only based on sex. The novel pursues the intersecting plot lines of these females, which later transpires in Mississippi, Natchez, New Orleans, Virginia, Louisiana and Richmond.

Starting from the auction of Currer, the future mistress of Thomas Jefferson, and later, their daughters, Althesa and Clotel, the novel highlights the terrifying injustices offered specifically to the mulatto people under slavery. While Clotel's white redeemer; Horatio Green, the son to a wealthy planter; Richmond, purchases and wins "her bride," both Currer and Althesa fall into the palms of a notorious and villainous slave trader; Dick Walker. Consequently, while Clotel engulfs into a relatively comfortable life "for a while," Althesa and Currer are sold away from each other, and into an extremely degrading forms of bondage. This assertion elicits the themes of isolation and family separations that the African-Americans underwent during the slavery as the slaves' trade (the buying and selling) occurred randomly, to and from different places (further and/or nearer). Afterwards, Currer relocated to Natchez in the Poplar Farm, where she dies tragically of yellow fever shortly before Reverent John Peck's daughter (an abolitionist-minded daughter); Georgiana, could emancipate her. Similarly, Althesa reduces to a tragedy despite her marriage to a white master Henry Morton.…[continue]

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