By Donald A. Petesch
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Extra resources for A Spy in the Enemy's Country: The Emergence of Modern Black Literature
Collins, an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society, reported to William Lloyd Garrison: 'The public have itching ears to hear a colored man speak, and particularly a slave. 15 The published narratives of their experiences, which often crystallized their speeches from the public platforms, were widely read: A large number of the separately printed narratives were issued in pamphlet form, cheaply printed, bound with paper covers and sold for about twenty-five cents. The more lengthy and better bound ones could be had for a dollar or a dollar and a half.
Black writers and potential black writers were in possession of a content inappropriate to most possible forms. Slave narratives, for example, stressed, for reasons both of verisimilitude and propaganda, the degradation and victimization so much a part of the peculiar institution. " A Frederick Douglass could write, as a fugitive slave, that he had never known a slave who did not bear stripes upon his body, but where was the literary form, apart from the slave narrative, that could contain such an experience, that could domesticate such a troubling, and accusatory, content?
16 This ignoring of difference is a tendency that has a long indulged history in the American experience. It reflects the American willingness to see what is believed. 17 But probably even more far-reaching in its implications (at least for non-Indians) than the nonpresence of the very-present Indians was the ignoring of class differences. Edward Pessen and other historians have probed the various myths of classlessness that have persisted into the twentieth century. On the basis of his own analysis of tax assessment lists for New York City, Brooklyn, and Boston and the studies of other historians, Pessen has drawn a picture of an increasing concentration of wealth during the antebellum period, a concentration quite at variance with the myth of the "age of egali- Page 16 tarianism" or the "age of the common man": "During the 'age of egalitarianism,' wealth became concentrated in the hands of an ever-smaller percentage of the population.
A Spy in the Enemy's Country: The Emergence of Modern Black Literature by Donald A. Petesch