Degradation

Frances Harper posing.

One aspect of Iola Leroy, by Frances E.W. Harper, that caught my attention was the assertion that violence, unfair treatment, and domination by the whites against the blacks degrades both.  She has Iola speak to this effect: “A people cannot habitually trample on law and justice without retrograding towards barbarism” (406).  Later, Harper’s minister, Reverend Carmicle says, “You cannot willfully deprive the negro of a single right as a citizen without sending demoralization through your own [white] ranks” (412).  This theme is persistent throughout the novel, and illustrated by the failure or rebuttal of all those characters who fail to treat every individual as worthy of respect. Even the kindDr. Gresham’s request that Iola forget her “drop” of colored blood results in the failure of his courtship.  To deny Iola the identity that she assumed, was an infringement of her rights and lowered his standing.  In contrast, Dr. Latimer embraces both his and Iola’s racial histories and succeeds admirably in his pursuit of Iola, with her regarding him as admirable above all other men.  Perhaps the most obvious of the results of mutual degradation, are the slave owners like Mr. Gundover.  Most of them are subject to death, and the remaining fall into poor health and shadow existences.

Reading this novel really does make me wish that Harper’s contemporaries had heeded her words of warning and realized that maltreatment of other is also maltreatment of self.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 10:29 pm  Comments (3)  
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