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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 624

There are several quotes throughout Black Thunder by Arna Bontemps that are significant to the underlying motivation of each of the characters involved in the central plot of the novel, which revolves around a failed slave revolt. It is important to note that the events of the story take place after the successful slave revolt in Haiti against France, which resulted in the first free black republic in the new world. Here are a few essential quotes expressed by several characters throughout the novel that lend some insight into their motivations for the slave uprising:

The equality of man - there's the pill. You had the filthy nobles in France. Here we have the planter aristocrats. We have merchants, the poor whites, the free blacks, the slaves - classes, classes, classes...I tell you, M. Creuzot, the whole world must know that these are not natural distinctions but artificial ones. Liberty, equality, and fraternity will have to be won for the poor and the weak everywhere if your own revolution is to be permanent. It is for us to awaken the masses.

—Alexander Biddenhurst, page 21

Gabriel, the leader of the failed slave rebellion, finds himself physically locked in place, unable to move as the words are so foreign to him. The use of the words "Liberty, equality, and fraternity" also reference the Haitian slave rebellion, as it is the national motto of both Haiti and France. During the 1800s, the island where present-day Haiti resides is referred to San Domingo. In this passage, Gabriel admits that Biddenhurst put into words concepts that he had been wrestling with concerning his freedom and the freedom of his fellow slaves.

Dying ain't nothing. You know how wood burns up to ashes and smoke? Well, it's just the same way when you's dying. The spirit and the skin been together like the smoke and the ashes in the wood; when you dies, they separates. Dying ain't nothing. The smoke goes free. Can't nobody hurt smoke. A smoke man—that's you now, brother.

—Gabriel, pages 52–53

Gabriel is referencing the freedom that comes from a slave's death and a slave's willingness to die for their freedom. The "brother" in this case is a character named Bundy, who was mortally injured by a slavemaster early in the novel. The attack of the slavemaster on Bundy is considered the inciting incident of the story, galvanizing Gabriel and his fellow slaves to organize an uprising.

Gabriel's partner, Juba, makes a statement confirming this belief while also foreshadowing Gabriel's fate during their discussion about rising up to free themselves:

Anybody what's studying about freedom is apt to catch his death, one way or another, ain't he?

—Juba, page 84

Throughout the novel, there are references to animals, such as squirrels, birds, and dogs, and the innate freedom that animals have which slaves do not. Characters also speak on the consequences of caging that which longs to be free.

"A wild bird what's in a cage will die anyhow, sooner or later," Gabriel said. "He'll pine hisself to death. He just as well to break his neck trying to get out."

—Gabriel, page 69

Something keep telling me that anything what's equal to a gray squirrel wants to be free.

—Gabriel, page 210

The above statement made by Gabriel was to the prosecutor during his trial. By this point, several rounds of slaves were being executed daily for their involvement in the uprising—to the point where the white slave owners began complaining about the loss of property. Since the slaves were treated like chattel that had contracted a disease (the disease being the notion of freedom), Gabriel felt it necessary to point out that other animals roamed free and that, as men, the slaves deserved their freedom.

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