Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 233

This work is an anthropological study of the last living slave on the last slave ship from Africa.

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Hurston narrates Cudjo Lewis's memories of being free in Africa and then being captured and sold into slavery. His first memories of being captured in Dahomey involve topics related to coming of age, as well as the terror of being at war and captured.

Themes of separation and loss are relevant as Lewis makes his passage and as he begins his life in the United States. One of the fascinating aspects of his story is that he is placed on a plantation where he does not speak the language of either the owners or the other slaves. Language and communication are important in this regard, and Hurston took pains to record his diction as faithfully as she could so as to preserve the linguistic record.

Loss continues as a theme as Lewis describes his sons' deaths as well as that of his wife, Seely. Particularly with his sons, the Jim Crow–era injustice and cruelty are in the shadows of the narration. With seemingly simplistic description, Lewis narrates these dramatic events, and Hurston manages to balance the obvious trauma and sorrow of these events with his memory of a life of loss and sorrow.

Memory is another theme, in terms of both Lewis's retrospection into a painful past and Hurston's desire to preserve cultural memories.

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