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The myth of the contented slave

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Research Asst III
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SUNY Empire...

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documents in English
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4 pages
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  1. Introduction.
  2. A slave.
    1. Satisfaction with having nothing.
    2. Abused beyond the realms of human comprehension.
  3. Slave's reaction to the horrific conditions.
    1. Resistance to bondage.
    2. Ways to force their will even within their restrictive domain.
    3. Their religion and their music.
  4. The Master's belief: Violence as a means to gain submission.
  5. Education and slavery.
  6. Suicide and slaves.
  7. Conclusion.
  8. Resources.

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 [...]

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