Mary Prince and the Ideology of Excess…

Alright, this idea is still relatively convoluted in my head, so bear with me.


One of the main themes that we have been asked to think about in the context of the slave narratives we have read is the idea of the slave as a comestible. We have looked at this, in Mary Prince, in the context of the body being physically consumed, from her work as a wet nurse to the mortality of the slave population. This is part of what I want to look at, but I want to step back and look also at the salve’s being in a more abstract way, in order to include mental and physical anguish as ways in which slaves are ‘used up’ or ‘consumed’.

I then want to tie this in to the discussions we have had about waste. We have also looked at waste in a very physical/concrete way (looking at the actual excretory waste of the body), but something that we haven’t really talked about is waste in its other sense. Waste also refers to the misuse/careless expenditure of resources.

I would like to draw a connection between this form of waste and the idea of the human being as a comestible or resource. The brutal and cruel treatment of slaves in both Equiano and Mary Prince can be seen as a kind of consumer waste. The loss of life in the middle passage described in Equiano is a very direct example of bodily waste of the slave “product”. But in Mary Prince, there is a different kind of wastefulness (in addition to just the loss of life). The Wood family’s harsh treatment of her can be seen as wasteful, in that they were needlessly and impractically horrible in their usage of Mary.

I feel that this wasteful use of their slaves demonstrates an attitude of excess that is closely tied to consumerism (in all its forms). It seems, in the text, that the Wood’s abuse of Mary is honestly for the sake of abuse. It doesn’t serve the purpose of getting more or better work out of her, or achieving a higher capital gain from their purchase of her. If this were the case they would have agreed to let her purchase her freedom, or they would not have beaten her until she was incapable of carrying out her tasks. Their conduct in London, after Mary has left their family, in particular, shows an attitude of desire to do harm without any possible benefit to any party other than the gratification of a vindictive malice.  Looked at in the context of the slave as a comestible resource for consumers, this type of consumerism can be seen as the rapacious greed of an ideology of excess: to consume for the sake of consuming instead of to fulfill some sort of need or purpose.

I feel like this is a relatively easy connection to draw. However, I am interested in the way that this might relate back to our discussions of Taste and Aesthetics as they relate to comestibles, as the lack of bodily or practical function (with a bit of a stretch this could be seen as excess or wastefulness) as being the necessary element in differentiating between taste and Taste.


I’m not sure what we could do with that, or if it even makes sense, but it was just a thought I had. 


2 thoughts on “Mary Prince and the Ideology of Excess…

  1. Kira,
    The way you are thinking about excessive cruelty resonates with me a great deal. I think that this is a fascinating instance of the body AND the mind as the site of control and torture. It also makes me think about a Hogarth painting I recently was writing on, The First Stage of Cruelty. It’s the first in a series of four prints on Cruelty (can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Four_Stages_of_Cruelty)

    Here were my thoughts on the nature of cruelty and consumption:
    “Envisioned as a reprimand for the heinous moral atrocities witnessed on the streets of London, Hogarth’s print depict escalating acts of cruelty. Pertinent to my argument, The First Act of Cruelty demonstrates anal representation parallel to representations of edibles. The image depicts a group of men sodomizing a dog with an arrow. The penetration is excruciating to consider. As an instrument of war and violence, the arrow is intended to pierce the flesh. As these men use it, however, even the tool corrupted. Excessively violent, the arrow is stripped of its mate. No longer wielded with a bow, the arrow becomes an extension of the men, a utensil of cruelty. As the dog suffers, his mouth is open, howling in pain. This detail as Hogarth renders it serves two functions for my purposes: it draws the viewer’s eye to another dog in the frame and it calls attention visually to the connections between the mouth and the rectum. The engraving depicts a foil to the sodomized canine. In the bottom right corner another act of cruelty occurs. Here a man ties a tempting bone to the tail of a creature who is clearly enticed by the victual. It is this image that haunts me as I examine Hogarth’s print. After conceiving of the anal violence perpetrated against the dog at the center of the print, the second represents the specter of violence to occur – a hungry dog threatening his own flesh in an effort to procure the bone. The faceless man directly aligned with the implement of the sodomy lies on a diagonal with the man securing the bone to the tail encouraging a collapse of the two men’s identities – both the victims and the villains are equated in this scene leading the viewer to conceive of the anal violence on the verge of occurring to the second animal. It is of imperative to note that a second and perhaps more common deployment of an arrow would be as an mechanism of hunting. Used to secure sustenance in the form of food, the arrow is, in its intended function, a vehicle to produce food, nourishment, and calories. Inserted into the rectum of the dog, the arrow becomes a symbol of the perverted order of things. No longer procuring that food which goes in the mouth and out the anus, here in Hogarth’s corrupted world it represents the shattered circuit. It is not a leap to consider the sodomy in conjunction with consumption. The script that accompanies the print only serves to solidify this reading. It reads:
    While various Scenes of sportive Woe,
    The Infant Race employ,
    And tortur’d Victims bleeding shew,
    The Tyrant in the Boy.
    Behold! a Youth of gentler Heart,
    To spare the Creature’s pain,
    O take, he cries—take all my Tart,
    But Tears and Tart are vain.
    Learn from this fair Example—You
    Whom savage Sports delight,
    How Cruelty disgusts the view,
    While Pity charms the sight.
    In conjunction with the image of the dog whose food is tied to his tail the gesture of offering a tart “to spare the creatures pain” only furthers the connection between the two creatures. As though the boy recognizes the disastrous connections between the edible and the anal, he proffers a treat to distract the cruel men from their corrupt acts. The print comments on excesses rendered twice, twice as anal and twice as edible. The excesses of torment are made metaphor as the act of eating and excreting. “

  2. I think that both of these examples (the abuse of Mary Prince and of the dog) are the result of the inevitable aggression that ensues from incorporating violence into consumption (economic consumption of slave labor, comestible consumption of sentient life), due to the physiological link between violence and aggression/anger. Cognitive dissonance is what drives the perpetrators to justify their actions, thus perpetuating the institutionalization of both violence and aggression, which are inextricably linked.

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