The Slave Dancer

by Paula Fox

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Why does Jessie's mother refer to her big job as a "nightmare" in The Slave Dancer?

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Intriguing question! In the book The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox, Jessie’s mother calls her big job a “nightmare.”

In the book, it is evident that Jessie’s mother is a hard worker. Despite her husband passing away, she raises two children through the money she earns from sewing. Although she also has the help of Jessie’s aunt, his aunt appears to offer little help or love to the family, especially after Jessie’s father (her brother) passes away.

As a result, Jessie’s mother takes on challenging sewing projects to earn money for her family. During the beginning of the book, she takes on a “nightmare.” This sewing project appears particularly challenging. Foremost, she cannot adequately see the material, which causes his mother to tell Jessie to go ask his aunt for some candlesticks. Subsequently, although the material is beautiful, she must make the dress quickly and it appears that she normally does not work with this fabric. Lastly, this project appears quite daunting and would take much time to complete. As Jessie’s thoughts reveal:

“I had seen damask and gauze and velvet and silk across my mother’s knees or falling in cascades from her table, but never such a lavish piece as this, of such a radiant hue.”


“Without looking up, my mother said, ‘We need more candles,’ in such a fretful and desperate voice, I knew she was pressed for time and had before her a piece of work that would keep her up many nights.”

Thus, Jessie’s mother works hard to provide for her family. Although her job is difficult, such as with this current “nightmare” with a short deadline, unfamiliar material, and insufficient lighting, Jessie’s mother continues working hard to provide for her family.

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