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The central themes of the story Sarny: A Life Remembered are slavery, freedom, tolerance, and endurance.
Set in the days after the Emancipation Proclamation, the book is a story of slavery. Sarny has lived all her life on a plantation, and the scars of her years of bondage are deeply embedded within her. Sarny's children have been taken away and sold, and there is nothing, as a slave, that she can do about it. She and the other slaves who leave the plantation after the Proclamation hate slavery with their whole beings, and vow never to live in bondage again. Freedom, another central theme in the story, is much valued by the former slaves. When Sarny and her traveling companion Lucy witness a battle between Union and Confederate soldiers, Lucy, understanding that the soldiers in blue are fighting so that she can be free, wisely observes,
"Freedom sure costs a heap, don't it?"
It is difficult for Sarny, and Lucy in particular, not to be consumed by hatred for the white people who have enslaved them and treated them so abominably. Hatred destroys the human spirit however, and the basic humanity that exists within the two women soon come to the forefront of their outlooks as they learn that all white people are not evil. Tolerance is the key to becoming truly human and thus truly free, and as Sarny and Lucy learn to see white people and black people alike as individuals, they find a freedom of spirit that is as great as the physical freedom which has finally been granted them.
Endurance is a final theme that is central to the book. Sarny and the others have endured the unendurable in bondage, and must now endure hardship, hunger, and uncertainty as they journey to find what the coming of freedom means for them.
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