Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The central theme in this play illustrates the evil of slavery and the role of important figures in dismantling it. John Brown saw the detriments of slavery with great clarity, and his vision is dramatized effectively in Harpers Ferry. He was an ordinary man, who, forged by historical forces, struck at the heart of slavery’s inhumanity. The attack on Harpers Ferry was the culminating act of his life, and it transformed him into a legend. He would neither be deterred by compromise nor be intimidated by the violence mobilized by slave owners to defend the billions of dollars they had invested in human property. He saw slavery as a perpetual state of war being waged against the slaves in order to keep them trapped in their subservient positions. The Fugitive Slave Act and other federal laws enacted in the 1850’s had the effect of spreading slavery into the northern states, and in response to this encroachment, John Brown felt it was his duty to join the battle with a direct attack.
An important secondary theme focuses on the deep Christian faith that was integral to John Brown’s character. It justified his abolitionist commitment and motivated his political and military action. His example served to reawaken the ambitious, stubborn Puritan spirit of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in the United States and to mobilize the forces required to eradicate slavery and rededicate the country to its original conception of liberty for...
(The entire section is 337 words.)
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