The definition of contentment is to feel or manifest satisfaction with one's possessions, status or situation. Leslie Howard Owens holds to the opinion that the "contented slave" is a "myth". In his book, "This Species of Property" the personality and attitudes of southern slaves is shown to be a complex manifestation based on experiences and consequences of a system that shaped, and was itself shaped, by the slave. Owens' researches and reveals the system of slavery in an overview. Frederick Douglas, in "An American Slave", written by him, provides individual insight that clearly upholds Owens' conjecture that docility, submissiveness and contentment are indeed a "myth" in the slave society. Though both publications differ in style the foundation of context parallels and confirm the other.
[...] Masters justified the state of slavery, pontificating that "they [slaves] were perfectly contented with their condition, and on the whole a much better race without education than with, as they were now faithful, kind-hearted, and attached to their masters, whereas education would destroy all their natural virtues, and make them as vicious as the lower orders in other countries." (LHO p 215). Regardless, slaves found a way to learn to read and write. Frederick Douglas devised a plan to circumvent the "unpardonable offense of teaching slaves to read in this Christian country" (FD p 41) with the foundation of the alphabet and sheer determination, Frederick Douglas, an example of many others I'm sure, formulated a system to learn to both read and write, " . [...]
[...] you are able to reach deep within your self and create an environment in order to survive. Thankfully, the slaves, " . were never convinced by arguments concerning their own deep-seated inferiority . and never permitted those who oppressed them so severely to live easy with their oppression" (LHO p 226). So, the idea that the contented slave existed, I believe is another one of history's attempts to ease its own aching conscience and bring some measure of justification to this blot on human history. If [...]
[...] For history to deny this response within the slave is to imply their lack of humanity, while supposedly trying to establish the past's inhumanity towards them, they instead foster a glaring dichotomy. There was an attitude or resistance to bondage exhibited early on in Frederick Douglas, when he said that " . about twelve years old, the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart" (FD p41), resolved to run away. I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape" (FD p 44). [...]
[...] Covey, he never laid the weight of his finger upon me in anger. This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom. My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. [...]
[...] The slave songs "speak with convincing finality against the legend of the contented slave . it appears ironic that many of these songs were composed more or less under the planter's nose" (LHO p l70). These songs were sad and sung with "heavy hearts and troubled spirits" (LHO p l72). "They told a tale of woe . the complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish . to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee