The Slave Dancer

by Paula Fox
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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346

1. In later life, Jessie cannot listen to music. Does this reaction seem reasonable to you? Have you had a bad experience that has caused you to dislike or fear something you associate with it?

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2. Fox has been criticized for the passivity of her black characters. Do you think the black characters in The Slave Dancer should have been more forceful? If so, do you think Jessie, a white character, should have been stronger as well? What might have happened to the characters if they had more actively fought the circumstances of their life aboard the ship?

3. Both The Slave Dancer and William H. Armstrong's novel Sounder (1969) deal with painful issues in black history, yet the authors of these books are white. Some people have objected to these novels because they think that these white authors lack an adequate perspective on black history. How do you respond to this criticism?

4. Some people have criticized the novel because the main characters are male. Do you think Fox should have included more significant female characters? How would the novel have differed if Jessie had been a girl?

5. Jessie plays his fife while the slaves "dance." How important is his playing? Do you think the slaves would have "danced" equally well without the music? If so, why does Captain Cawthorne want Jessie to play?

6. Cawthorne orders Jessie to play his fife immediately before the drunken dance near the end of the book. Why do Cawthorne and the rest of the men want to dance with the slaves who are dressed in fine costumes? Is this dance symbolic in showing similarities between the captors and the captives?

7. Cawthorne calls Jessie "Bollweevil." What is a bollweevil? Why does he give Jessie this name?

8. Jessie's mother works as a seamstress to make a living, although the hours are long and the pay is low. What other jobs might she have held in the mid-nineteenth century, considering what you know about her and about working conditions for women at that time?

9. Do you think Fox should have included humor to soften the novel's grimness?

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