The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Scholars maintain that the narrator of The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Hannah, is based on the book’s author, Hannah Crafts. The book’s manuscript was discovered and published more than a century after it was written, however, and little is known of the author’s actual life. It is therefore difficult to categorize the work definitively as either a novel or an autobiography, although generically and stylistically it resembles a nineteenth century novel.

Hannah is a complex character who deeply loves her mistress. However, the character Hannah has received literary rebuke for her subservience toward any white person who is kind to her. She works without complaint as a house slave, and she rebels only when Mrs. Wheeler orders her to demean herself by working in the fields and marrying a field hand.

The Mistress is motivated largely by weakness. Although Hannah is able to endure slavery and find some joy in simple things, the Mistress simply cannot live such a life. After her ill-planned escape with Hannah, she descends into madness. When she is recaptured and faced with the prospect of becoming a slave, she dies. Hannah, on the other hand, bides her time and eventually escapes to freedom.

Mr. Trappe strongly resembles Mr. Tulkinghorn, a manipulative character from Charles Dickens’s contemporary novel Bleak House (1852-1853). He wears black throughout the book and lurks in the shadows, ready to pounce when least expected. As his name indicates, Mr. Trappe “traps” people and feeds on them like a bird of prey.