What are the five main points of Hannah Crafts' novel The Bondwoman's Narrative?

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Below are five major points highlighted in Hannah Croft's The Bondwoman's Narrative.

Race. A prominent theme in the book is racial relations in the United States. Crafts, in the preface of the story, discusses how she aims to show how slavery dehumanized both whites and blacks (though, obviously, primarily black people). Many moments throughout the novel highlight racism in the American south. In the beginning of the novel, Hannah, a young girl who is enslaved, learns to read from an older white woman. The white woman is reprimanded for teaching her, highlighting the racist laws of the time. Hannah runs from the plantation where she is enslaved, along with the mistress, who is of mixed race. The two are imprisoned for escaping. Hannah is sold back into slavery. At one time, her new owner wears blackface.

Mental health. In various moments, the novel considers how slavery poorly impacts the mental well-being of enslaved people and of slave owners. The mistress of the home she is first sold into loses her sanity while the two enslaved people are on the run. The young woman is mixed-race but passes for some time as white. Her racial identity is discovered, and she is forced to flee with Hannah. The two spend the night in a shack where a murder recently took place. The mistress starts to go crazy, as there is blood everywhere. A little later in the story, the two are in prison, where they meet Mrs. Wright. She is a kind older white woman who is in jail for helping a young girl escape slavery.

Freedom. Throughout the story, Hannah attempts to fight for her freedom. She flees various dangerous situations and ultimately runs for the north. The story portrays the ways in which the south imprisoned and enslaved blacks and any whites who dared to help.

Humanity. This brutal story outlines the many ways that slavery dehumanized black people and brings into question the lack of humanity of whites. At one point in the story, the mistress of Hannah’s owner attempts to silence her and take revenge by arranging for her to be raped. The evil in this plot highlights the lack of humanity in the antebellum south.

Survival. Hannah exhibits a great amount of skill as she, in various scenarios, escapes imminent death. She is able to read situations brought in front of her and avoid many deadly moments. For example, she becomes aware of the mistress’ plans to have her raped, and this is when she escapes to the north. In addition, Hannah is able to maintain her sanity through some incredibly evil moments.

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When we discuss literature and speak about “main points,” we are speaking about themes.  There are quite a few themes in this novel.  The main points of the story are found in the themes of slavery, escape, freedom, mental illness, and loyalty.

Each of these main points is an important part of the discussion of theme.  Quite simply, Hannah is a slave.  Hannah’s unhappiness in her lot in life is apparent as she deals with her mistress who sinks deeper and deeper into insanity.  In regards to the theme of escape, it is interesting that both Hannah and her mistress both desire to escape to the North.  As someone in the bonds of slavery, the pull is even greater for Hannah.  In regards to freedom, Hannah is very interested in the freedom to read (which she is unable to do as a slave); however, when life becomes unbearable, Hannah desires freedom from her actual slave bonds as well.  Even though it is more of a minor theme, mental illness can be discussed through the character of Hannah’s mistress.  Hannah’s mistress is incredibly weak both emotionally and physically.  In fact, she is too weak to make it all the way North.  All of these things lead to the mistress character entering deeper and deeper into insanity.  Finally, we need to discuss the main theme of loyalty here.  As a slave, Hannah is amazingly loyal to her white masters.  Hannah is rarely critical of the worst of them (such as the horrible Mrs. Wheeler) and obeys their every command.  Further, she offers to be a slave (again) to Mrs. Henry, who helps her regain her strength.   

Thus, the main character of Hannah is incredibly important when speaking about the author’s main points.  Through Hannah, the reader learns much about both slavery and freedom.  In short, we could combine all of the main points into one statement:  slavery and mental illness are to be avoided while escape, freedom and loyalty are to be coveted.

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