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Ghosts of Slavery

A Literary Archaeology of Black Women’s Lives

2002
Author:

Jenny Sharpe

Ghosts of Slavery

Questions traditional assumptions about power and agency in slave women’s everyday lives.

While some scholars imply that only the struggle for freedom was legitimate, Jenny Sharpe complicates the linear narrative-from slavery to freedom and literacy-that emerged from the privileging of autobiographical accounts like that of Frederick Douglass. She challenges a paradigm that equates agency with resistance and self-determination, and introduces new ways to examine negotiations for power within the constraints of slavery.

Ghosts of Slavery is an innovative and exciting discussion of slave subjectivity and the attendant questions regarding the degree of the slave's incorporation within and resistance to the hegemonic structures of the master's society.

Abdul JanMohamed, University of California, Berkeley

Through their open defiance, women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth had a significant impact on the institution of slavery. But what of the countless other women who did not commit public or even private acts of resistance? Are their stories worthy of our attention? While some scholars imply that only the struggle for freedom was legitimate, Jenny Sharpe complicates the linear narrative-from slavery to freedom and literacy-that emerged from the privileging of autobiographical accounts like that of Frederick Douglass. She challenges a paradigm that equates agency with resistance and self-determination, and introduces new ways to examine negotiations for power within the constraints of slavery.

In Ghosts of Slavery, Sharpe introduces a wider range of everyday practices by examining the lives of three distinctive Caribbean women: a maroon leader, a mulatto concubine, and a fugitive slave. Through them she explains how the diasporic experience of slavery enabled black women to claim an authority that they didn’t possess in Africa, how concubines empowered themselves through their mimicry of white women, and how less-privileged slave women manipulated situations that they were powerless to change. Finding the highly mediated portrayal of slave women in the historical records limited and sometimes misleading, Sharpe turns to unconventional sources for investigating these women’s lives. In this fascinating and historically rich account, she calls for new strategies of reading that question traditional narratives of history, and she finds alternative ways to integrate oral storytelling, slave songs, travel writing, court documents, proslavery literature, and contemporary literature into black history.

Ultimately, this layered approach not only produces a more complex picture of the slave women’s agency than conventional readings, it encourages a more nuanced understanding of the roles of slaves in the history of slavery.


Ghosts of Slavery

Jenny Sharpe is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text (Minnesota, 1993).

Ghosts of Slavery

Ghosts of Slavery is an innovative and exciting discussion of slave subjectivity and the attendant questions regarding the degree of the slave's incorporation within and resistance to the hegemonic structures of the master's society.

Abdul JanMohamed, University of California, Berkeley

As a work of scholarship, Jenny Sharpes’s Ghosts of Slavery is a welcome contribution. It should be considered essential reading for anyone interested in Caribbean studies, women’s history, the institution of slavery, or studies of narrative.

African American Review

This is a well-written work of synthesis that not only adds to the growing body of works on gender in American/Caribbean history, but also participates in the ongoing project of re-voicing the marginalized Black woman’s experience. Sharpe’s mastery of theories and concepts is unchallenged.

Biography

Jenny Sharpe attempts to excavate from inattention the lives of three representative black women who lived within or in resistance to Caribbean plantation slavery.

American Historical Review

Ghosts of Slavery

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction The Haunting of History

1.“The Rebels Old Obeah Woman” History as Spirit Possession
2.“An Incomparable Nurse” The Obi of Domesticity
3.“Our History Was Truly Broken” Writing Back to a Slave Past
4.“A Very Troublesome Woman” Who Speaks for the Morality of Slave Women?

Afterwor
Notes
Bibliography

Index