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The Dependence Of the Master To the Slave In The History Of Mary Prince

I found the History of Mary Prince to be extremely gruesome and was at time troublesome to read. The accuracy and images the piece conjures is enough to make most people feel troubled to their core. One recurring thing I noticed in this story that seemed to differentiate itself from Equiano was the relationship between the master and slave. I found in many instances in this book the slave owners were not only known to project their own insecurities and issues onto their slaves, but also seemed oddly dependent on the slaves presence. We see this with the owner who beats his daughter and then lashes out at any slave who is in the area, see’s, or tries to help her. In the case of the Wood and other families, no matter how often she tried many families had a huge issue with trying to sell Mary. This is despite the fact that she was constantly sick, seemingly drifting in and out of consciousness, as well as being unfit to do some of the easiest types of work. Certain families dependence on her was most clear to me when Mrs. Wood stated, Mrs. Wood was very much hurt and frightened when she found I was determined to go out that day. She said, “If she goes the people will rob her, and then turn her adrift.” She did not say this to me, but she spoke it loud enough for me to hear; that it might induce me not to go.” This idea is something I’m having a little bit of trouble wrapping my head around, but can certainly see it as something that is both apparent and worth noting.  

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3 thoughts on “The Dependence Of the Master To the Slave In The History Of Mary Prince

  1. Hi Brian – I like your observations about how families were extremely dependent on their slaves. To me, it seemed like most slave owners either forgot how to or thought they were too good to do their own chores, care for, and even nurse their own children. Of course, there was also the extreme case of Mr. and Mrs. Wood who only kept Mary to infringe on her freedom.

    In regards to the passage you quoted, I think Mrs. Wood was purposely being fake, and trying to show deceitful concern by frightening Mary into not leaving because she did not say it to Mary, but only loud enough for her to hear. Additionally, in Mr. Pringle’s Supplement he includes Joseph Phillips’ letter who wrote, “‘[Mr. Wood’s] wife was probably more severe than himself – it was almost impossible for the slaves ever to give her entire satisfaction’” (47). In other words, Mrs. Wood was fussy, vindictive, and held grudges, so her loud “concern” was certainly only another scheme.

  2. Hey guys, I think that you both make really good points here. I agree with Amy’s assessment that, in the case of the Wood family, their ‘need’ or Mary was entirely vindictive, and as an outlet for their cruelty and malice. At the same time, for people so completely overcome with their own vices of wrath and greed, this does constitute a kind of dependence. I think also, in the case of Mary Prince, since she is reported to have been such a loyal, hard-working slave by Mr. Pringle, she was invaluable to Woods because they could treat her so outrageously and still expect good work from her. In addition, her passion for freedom made her more vulnerable to their torments: another way in which she was particularly valuable as a subject for their malice.

    Also, in regards to Brian’s point about the dependence of families on their slaves, and the relationship of dependence and support which that point addresses, some of the earlier experiences in Mary’s narrative support his observation about master-slave dependence, particularly in the case of Ms. Betsy, who feels that she simply cannot do without Mary, not only as a worker and a possession, but as a companion, and to some degree a friend.

  3. In the case of the Wood family, I think their reluctance was not so much vindictivness as it was pride. Mary was their possession, and to let go of a possession, even one you don’t need or want is one thing if done of your own will, but when that decision begins to look like it may be made by someone else, it becomes a matter of pride to hold on to that possession and any decisions regarding it.

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