What is the main idea and theme of the Jourdon Anderson letter?

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. "  --Excerpt from the Jourdan Anderson letter

The Jourdan Anderson letter is a correspondence between the former slave Jourdan Anderson, who had escaped Tennessee, and his former master, Colonel P.H. Anderson. The letter is a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek response to Colonel Anderson's previous letter that suggested Jourdan and his family should return to the plantation in Tennessee. It was written towards the end of the Civil War.

The main idea of the letter is that the freedom of the North offered a much better alternative than being in slavery in the South. The letter's theme of redemption and perseverance are demonstrated in the mention of Jourdan being paid every Saturday for his work in the North. His work as a slave was uncompensated, except for his clothing and food. Despite the meager wages he now receives as a laborer, being free is a much better alternative. His children have a better future because of it. The letter is also one of rebellion, in that he is able to speak in such a frank nature towards his former master. An example of this is when he mentions his family would be happy to return if his master agreed to pay him for back wages. You can almost see Colonel Anderson's face blush with anger as he reads it.