Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black Analysis

John Marrant

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

On account of its author’s freeman status at birth, John Marrant’s autobiographical A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black is not, strictly speaking, a slave narrative. Because Marrant was a black man who experienced capture and enslavement at the hands of American Indians, most scholars place his work in the slave-narrative tradition. Another reason for classifying his work as a slave narrative is that Marrant was an influential figure in the development of that genre.

Marrant’s narrative is both the story of his Indian captivity and a spiritual autobiography. The two sections of the narrative feature a three-part structure. In the religious work, the parts deal with a person’s experiences of sin, conversion, and spiritual rebirth; the three sections of the Indian captivity account focus on Marrant’s experiences when he is taken captive, the transformation that occurs in him during his exposure to Indian culture, and his attainment of a freedom that is marked by a deeper awareness of life.

Marrant relates the story of his experiences to the Reverend Mr. Aldridge, who serves as editor of the account; both men are primarily interested in communicating a spiritual message to readers. At the beginning of his narrative, Marrant sets forth the religious purpose and tone of his work by stating that he hopes the example of his life will be useful in encouraging men and women to become stronger believers in the Christian faith.

Marrant recalls that he was born on June 15, 1755, in New York, but he does not relate his early experiences there. Neither does he say much about his later schooling in Florida and Georgia. Yet, he describes how his early youth was devoted to pleasure and drinking and how he loved to play the violin and French horn at all the balls and gatherings in town. Marrant describes himself as a slave to every vice until the age of thirteen. At that time, he is living in Charleston, South Carolina, where an event occurs that accidentally gives him the opportunity to hear the words of a great religious leader.

On that fateful day, Marrant and his wayward companions are passing a church when they...

(The entire section is 899 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Andrews, William L. To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. Chapter 2 provides a thorough study of several early slave narratives. Illustrates how the first narrators relied on captivity and conversion traditions to tell their first-person accounts to a white audience.

Costanzo, Angelo. Surprizing Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Explains and analyzes the slave-narrative tradition as it developed in the eighteenth century. Discusses the significance of the early black writers upon the form and structure of the slave narrative as a literary genre. Contains a detailed examination of Marrant’s narrative, with a special emphasis on the portrayal of his character as a biblical type.

Foster, Frances Smith. Witnessing Slavery: The Development of Ante-bellum Slave Narratives. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Provides a study of the history, influences, development, plots, and racial myths of the slave narratives. Discusses the eighteenth century accounts that were the forerunners of the numerous slave works published by abolitionists just prior to the Civil War.

Kaplan, Sidney. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution, 1770-1800. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1973. Describes Marrant’s narrative and parts of his journal. Also deals with the rousing and inspiring content of the sermon Marrant preached in Boston in 1789, in which he attacked racism and summoned black men and women to develop pride in their African heritage.

Williams, Kenny J. They Also Spoke: An Essay on Negro Literature in America, 1787-1930. Nashville, Tenn.: Townsend Press, 1970. Emphasizes how Marrant credited divine providence for the success of his spiritual life. Chapter 3 provides a useful general account of the slave-narrative structure. Also deals with the melodramatic and didactic elements of slave works and their various religious and realistic prose styles.