Themes

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Last Updated on October 3, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373

The protagonist of The Kitchen House is a young Irish girl, Lavinia, who loses her parents and her memory at sea while her family is immigrating to the United States. As she recovers her memory, she goes to live on a Southern plantation. Her experiences as a white, indentured, European American worker are contrasted to those of the enslaved, black, African Americans. The differing situations of men and women are addressed for upper-class as well as working people.

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Social Inequality in the Antebellum South

The overarching theme of the novel is the highly unequal character of US society at the turn of the nineteenth century. The limited mobility of working-class people, especially in the rural South, is detailed in numerous contexts. Although slavery is the dominant form of social injustice and economic exploitation, the author shows that poor whites also had limited opportunities to significantly alter their situations.

Slavery and Unfree Labor

Grissom uses the device of placing an anomalous protagonist into an unpredictable situation. Lavinia learns about slavery firsthand as she is confronted with the highly specific characteristics of a system from which she, for reasons of skin color and national origin, is exempted. The idea of enslavement as a method of social control as well as labor organization is detailed. The racial component of the systems is emphasized through Lavinia’s opportunities, including the move to Williamsburg, for social advancement. The assignment of mixed-race children to slave status is also...

(The entire section contains 373 words.)

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