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Our Nig: Or, Sketches From The Life Of A Free Black
by Harriet E. Wilson
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From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister
Ignored by critics upon its publication and "lost" for more than one hundred years, Our Nig was rediscovered and reprinted in 1983 and is currently considered to be the first novel by an African-American published in the United States. It is a fascinating book which combines elements of nineteenth-century slave narratives and domestic novels and defied the social conventions of its time by portraying interracial marriage, child abandonment, cruel Northerners, and an African-American heroine who is full of energy, intelligence, and imagination, bowed only by prolonged and arduous toil. The story begins with six year-old Frado, deserted by her white mother after the death of her black father and left to live as a servant with the Bellmonts. While some Bellmont family members are sympathetic, Frado is treated like a slave by the mistress of the house and her daughter. By the time Frado is an adult she fulfills duties in "all departments - man, boy, housekeeper, domestic, etc." One by one, Frado's allies are taken from her, replaced finally by a man with whom "she opened her heart to the presence of love" - and who then deserts her. With an ironic, circular return to the beginning of the story, Our Nig is Frado's - and the author's - attempt to support herself and her child. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.
"I sat up most of the night reading and pondering the enormous significance of Harriet Wilson's Our Nig." ?Alice Walker
Our Nig is the tale of a mixed-race girl, Frado, abandoned by her white mother after the death of the childs black father. Frado becomes the servant of the Bellmonts, a lower-middle- class white family in the free North, while slavery is still legal in the South, and suffers numerous abuses in their household. Frados story is a tragic one; having left the Bellmonts, she eventually marries a black fugitive slave, who later abandons her.
Wilson combined and subverted two literary styles, the sentimental novel and the slave narrative, in writing Our Nig, which was drawn from her real-life experience. Her sardonic treatment of abolitionists in the novel has long perplexed scholars and readers; Foreman and Pitts explain this puzzle in their Introduction and recount Wilsons life and career after the 1859 publication of Our Nig.
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