Freedom and Imprisonment
From the very beginning of The Slave Dancer, themes of imprisonment and escape run through the book. In the opening chapter, Jessie and his family live in one tiny room, little more than a cell, with a few meager possessions, and Jessie feels crowded there, particularly in bad weather: "I hated the fog," he says. "It made me a prisoner." When he visits his Aunt Agatha to ask for a few candles, he is ordered about like a prisoner: "'Don't walk there!' she would cry. 'Take your huge feet off that carpet! Watch the chair—it'll fall!"'
Soon after this visit to his aunt, Jessie is captured and taken to the slave ship—a fate that will soon be paralleled in the fates of the slaves he must play his fife for. Like them, he is beaten; like them, he eats horrible food; like them, he has no option for escape other than jumping over the side and drowning. However, no matter how much he suffers, their suffering is always worse, a fact of which he is always aware.
The sailor Purvis, whose parents came from Ireland under conditions similar to those of the slaves, resents any pity Jessie feels for the slaves, because somehow, to him, it dishonors his parents' suffering when anyone cares about how the Africans are treated.
Jessie's physical imprisonment is bad enough, but Fox also shows how he becomes mentally imprisoned—how, from feeling sorry for the slaves, Jessie enters a time when he hates...
(The entire section is 1048 words.)
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