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The Paradoxes of Suicide and Slavery in Print

The Paradoxes of Suicide and Slavery in Print

(p.101) Five The Paradoxes of Suicide and Slavery in Print
The Power to Die
Terri L. Snyder
University of Chicago Press

Accounts of self-destructive slaves were part of the flourishing theme of suicide in early eighteenth-century Anglo-American print and theater. These depictions, often set in British American colonies and based on allegedly true events implicitly explored the paradoxes of slavery. Stories of slave suicide appeared in the venues aimed at middle to upper class readers and theatergoers, a group that included merchants, investors, and absentee owners with interests in slavery. Moreover, these literary fusions -- not exactly fact or fiction, but fiction putatively based on fact -- did not debate suicide, provide fodder for humorous anecdotes, or outwardly condemn slavery. Instead, these stories explored the implications of colonial slavery. In particular, they considered the characteristics of slaves -- rank, passion, beauty, and temperament were prominent themes -- and surveyed the nature of colonial slavery and the character of Anglo-American authority. Tales of slave suicide were a means for surveying the imperial politics of slavery from the safe distance of print. Variously focused on the slave trade, the temperament of Africans, and the nature of English authority, accounts of slave suicide probed the ramifications of slavery in British American plantations.

Keywords:   Oroonoko, Ballads, Job Ben Solomon, John AnsahSessarakoo, popular

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