Jessie Bollier, the narrator of The Slave Dancer, relates how he was kidnapped at age thirteen and made to play his fife on a slave ship, how he endured a journey to West Africa and back, and how he and the young slave Ras survived a shipwreck. He resists the moral corruption of the sadistic men on the slave ship and eventually triumphs over the poverty of his childhood by becoming an apothecary, or druggist. These victories are not easily gained, though. Jessie vividly records his struggles with the slave dealers and the elements of nature, and carries with him a permanent psychological scar: never again is he able to listen to music.
The Slave Dancer is a novel about ideas and history in the guise of a superbly told adventure story. The novel is thought-provoking; it encourages readers to ask themselves how they would have reacted if they were in Jessie's place. Because of Fox's careful research, the novel gives a realistic view of life aboard a slave ship. It also shows what life was like for poor people living in the American South during the 1840s, revealing the extent to which slavery pervaded and corrupted American society. The novel is rich with facts about the slave trade, about the debate over banning slavery, and about living conditions and customs of the time.
(The entire section is 224 words.)
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Thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier, his widowed mother, and his sister live in a one-room home in a poor quarter of New Orleans in 1840. His mother makes a meager wage sewing dresses, and Jessie plays his fife to make a few pennies. He dreams of being rich someday, and although he is curious about the lives of slaves he sees, he is forbidden to visit the slave market and knows little about their daily existence. His mother tells him that despite his family's grinding poverty,
there were souls whose fates were so terrible in comparison to ours, that we should consider ourselves among the fortunate of the earth. I knew she was thinking of the slaves who were sold daily so close to where we lived.
When his mother has to make a dress in a hurry, she sends Jessie out to his aunt's house to get some candles so she can stay up late to sew, but on the way home from this errand, two sailors who have seen him playing his fife kidnap him.
Their ship is The Moonlight, a ship bound for Africa, under Captain Cawthorne, a man so brutal that when he meets Jessie, he bites Jessie's ear hard enough to draw blood. Captain Cawthorne tells Jessie that The Moonlight is a slave ship, involved in a "lucrative and God-granted trade," and that anyone who tries to interfere with it is a pirate. Jessie will play his fife to make the slaves "dance" once they are on...
(The entire section is 2119 words.)