The Slave Dancer

by Paula Fox

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Did Jessie from The Slave Dancer do the right thing at the end? Why or why not?

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At the end of the story, indirectly Jessie helps Ras to escape, and it is clear that this was the right thing to do. After the horrors that Jessie had been forced to witness, and not only witness, but to participate in through his musical talent, Jessie clearly opposes the slave trade and everything to do with it. It is therefore completely correct that he keeps his silence about Ras and how he managed to escape. When he arrives back at his home, so greatly is he affected by his experiences that he determines to have nothing whatsoever to do with slavery, though this in practice is much more difficult than he realises:

At first, I made a promise to myself: I would do nothing that was connected ever so faintly with the importing and sale and use of slaves. But I soon discovered that everything I considered bore, somewhere along the way, the imprint of black hands.

This is a very telling comment for us all in today's world, as Jessie realises that slavery is such an inextricable part of life that it is impossible to avoid it completely, just as it is impossible for us today to enjoy the wealth and prosperity that we do without realising that slavery, in some ways, was responsible for it. Jessie's decision to settle to be an apothecary therefore involves a recognition that he lives in a world that is indelibly marked by slavery and he has to accept that. This was the correct decision as well, because it would have been impossible for him to make a living in any other way if he wanted to avoid slavery completely.

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