Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573
Early on, Rutherford Calhoun says,
I have never been able to do things half-way, and I hungered—literally hungered—for life in all its shades and hues: I was hooked on sensation, you might say, a lecher for perception and the nerve-wracking thrill, like a shot of opium, of new "experiences."
Honestly, if there has ever been a perfect quotation to illustrate the idea that one must be careful what one wishes for, this is it! Rutherford longs to experience everything, and then he gets on board this ship where he experiences all manner of horrible, strange, gut-wrenching, frightening, life-altering, heart-breaking things, and it changes him so dramatically. Though one could argue that he changes for the better, it is certainly an incredibly painful process.
Rutherford also describes his childhood with his older brother, Jackson. He says,
If you have never been hungry, you cannot know the either/or agony created by a single sorghum biscuit—either your brother gets it or you do. And if you do eat it, you know in your bones you have stolen the food straight from his mouth, there being so little for either of you. This was the daily, debilitating side of poverty that no one speaks of, the perpetual scarcity that, at every turn, makes the simplest act a moral dilemma.
Charles R. Johnson presents a pretty unflinchingly honest view of slavery. Though we do not witness Rutherford's time as a slave directly—we get it through his memories and the stories he tells—stories like this one illustrate the kinds of cruelties we may not typically think of when we think of slavery. We might picture slaves sweating in the field, doing back-breaking labor, or being whipped for some infraction of the master's rules, but to consider the mere act of eating a biscuit as a moral dilemma because of one's awareness that a meal is a zero-sum proposition is to have one's eyes opened to a less familiar aspect of the slave narrative. If I eat, you don't, and if I love you but I am also desperate to eat, then how can I make a satisfying decision? I do not wish to deny you, but I also want to live. It's an incredibly humanizing problem that renders the...
(The entire section contains 573 words.)
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