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date: 08 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article reads the history of the slave narrative in light of the tension between, on the one hand, the quest of exceptional individuals for liberation, and, on the other, the chronicle of exploited workers striving collectively to achieve equality. The story of the fugitive slave as an individual has been more explicitly a part of American literary history than has the more collective story that emerged when, in response to escaping slaves crossing Union lines during the Civil War, fugitives were declared contrabands, thus transforming the war, irrevocably, into a war for the abolition of slavery. This tension within the slave narrative reflects broader tensions within American literature generally to reconcile the individual’s quest for unimpeded freedom as represented by Herman Melville’s Ahab with the desire to acknowledge the political priority of black and white workers.

Keywords: fugitive slave, slave narrative, abolition, slavery, Civil War, contrabands

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