Great Slave Narratives Summary


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Great Slave Narratives, Arna Bontemps’ 1960’s revival of a once-popular American literary genre, is a compilation of three book-length narratives written by former slaves. During much of the nineteenth century, slave narratives were best-sellers for American publishers. The reintroduction of this literary form was inspired by the Black Power movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s and the resurgent interest in black culture and the African American experience. Readers were again curious about how it felt to be black and a slave; they wanted to know how the world looked through the eyes of one who had achieved a measure of freedom by effort and suffering. Who, readers wanted to know, were the people who had passed through the ordeal, and how had they expressed their thoughts and feelings?

Bontemps chose for this book three outstanding examples of the genre. The first, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), by Olaudah Equiano, who was given the name Gustavus Vassa, gained wide attention, and is particularly interesting for the author’s vivid recall of his African background. In 1794, it went into its eighth edition, with many more to follow in America and Europe.

The second book, The Fugitive Blacksmith; Or, Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington, Pastor of a Presbyterian Church, New York, Formerly a Slave in the State of Maryland, United States...

(The entire section is 484 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Aptheker, Herbert. A Documentary History of the Negro People. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1973.

Blackett, R. J. M. Building an Antislavery Wall. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.

Blockson, Charles L. The Underground Railroad: First Person Narratives of Escapes to Freedom in the North. New York: Prentice Hall, 1987.