Explain the style of writing in Dessa Rose as neo-slave narrative?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The Slavery narrative movement is a product of the 1930s, specifically the period between 1936-1938, and was initiated by a group of interested journalists and researchers under the name of "the Federal Writers." Together, they created this historical project under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) where they set out to record stories from the first-person accounts of over two thousand different people who either lived through slavery, or were born under that form of regime.

The style that is shown in most of the Federal Writers' stories is expressed through the voice of the very person who once was a slave or is closely related to people who were. The narratives are expressed in many different moods: From anger, to sorrow; from the want of vengeance, to the submission of those who knew no better. However, the stories, now held at the Library of Congress, aim to uncover the reality of such an inhuman practice, and the effects that it leaves in the psyche of those who are forced to experience it.

Dessa Rose belongs to the genre of new Slave narrative. This is an aim to revisit the style of narrative and storytelling conveyed by the Federal Writers back in the 30s, and to bring it to a modern audience using the same form and content to instill credibility.

Given that Dessa Rose is a character that is inspired by the tormented lives of former slaves who made the news back in the day, Williams has the responsibility to voice Dessa's problems and thoughts using a narrative style that follows the original Slave Writings. This is why the story of Dessa is told from three different perspectives: Adam, the reporter who interviews Dessa in "Darky",  Rufel (a white woman friend of Dessa's) speaks in "The Wench", and Dessa, herself, speaks out in "The Negress".

Moreover, the style of writing is meant to show the struggles of the people. When Williams chooses three, instead of one, characters to give their perspective it brings the narrative to more than just a memoir, but it actually follows the format of what would be a researched account of facts.

Therefore, the style of writing in Dessa Rose aims to follow the style of the original Federal Writers' project by using a diversity of perspectives that speak their own mind about the situation at hand. Moreover, Dessa's own voice is heard and it clearly defines the extent to which her struggles have permeated and molded her existence.

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