Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Harriet Wilson's "Our Nig"

African American girl, full-length portrait, seated on stool, facing slightly right. Photo by Thomas E. Askew. From Types of American Negroes, compiled and prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois, v. 1, no. 59. Part of the Paris Exposition of 1900.

Our next novel is Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig. This autobiographical novel, the first by an African American woman (pub. in 1859) melds the two most popular literary genres of the 19th century: the slave narrative and the sentimental novel. I would like you to consider how this novel fits in with the other works we have read this semester (esp. Douglass, Harper, some of the speeches), or other works you may have read outside of this class (written during the same era), and to think about the following questions:

  • How does this novel compare with other works--what are the similarities, and what are the differences? 
  • What is significant about the prefatory note that precedes the beginning of the story? 
  • What major themes emerge in this novel? 
  • What is Harriet Wilson's motive for writing Our Nig that sets her apart from her (white women) contemporaries?
  • How do you "read" race, gender, and class in Our Nig?
I would like you to think about these questions as you read. I would like for us to start on this novel over the weekend. Therefore, I ask you to please read up to Chapter Three (3), and make some notes on passages of significance to you!
All best,
Prof. Williams

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