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This novel is above all else a very powerful and strident examination of race relations in the United States, particularly related to slavery and how whites treated blacks. However, although the novel is full of examples of how slavery literally dehumanised the slaves themselves, including the twisted logic of Sethe's infanticide when the only way she has of expressing her love for her children is by killing them, the novel equally argues that the whites, the perpetrators of slavery, are equally impacted negatively by slavery. Consider the following quote that comes at the beginning of Part II when Stamp Paid muses about how slavery impacts both whites and blacks:
White people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way... they were right... But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place... It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread... until it invaded the whites who had made it... Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.
This is arguably one of the most significant quotes in the book as it explores the way in which both whites and blacks are similar but also different. On the one hand, this quote suggests that everybody is influenced by slavery and that everybody is dehumanised by it. Even the whites are made "bloody silly" through fear and the "screaming baboon" they find within themselves. Yet the whites are different because their position of power allows them to project onto the blacks their own repressed savagery. This does not stop the savagery that exists within them, however, and the quote ends with a powerful and disturbing image of the whites cannibalising themselves as they hide in a jungle of their own skin. The message of this book about whites and blacks is therefore that both are impacted negatively by slavery, though for slightly different reasons.
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