Why does the speaker use, "he" instead of giving any name to the slave?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One possible reason that the speaker of the poem only calls the slave by the pronoun "he," rather than giving him a name, is that the speaker wishes to describe a more universal slave experience, rather than the specific experience of one slave. By keeping the slave unnamed, this experience could be any slave's, all slaves', experiences; if he were named, then it becomes particular rather than universal. Any slave might have dreams of being in Africa, where he could be free and powerful. The narrator says that this slave dreams of "forests, with their myriad tongues, / [That] Shouted of liberty," making the man smile in his sleep. Then, he dies, leaving his body behind like "A worn-out fetter, that the soul / Had broken and thrown away!" Longfellow draws attention to the slave's humanity and human desire for freedom, contrasting it with the way slave-owning society has rendered his very body an instrument of torture, chaining him to a life of powerlessness and pain, and this draws attention to another possible reason the slave might be unnamed: white society does not see him as human, has tried to strip him of humanity, and refusing to name him could draw attention to this cruelty as well.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial