Sp 2013 Introduction to Fiction

Group 5 (Damaris Lliso, Crystal Lin, Curt Saunders, Yoshiko Nakamura, Brendon Garayua)

On our recent trip to the Brooklyn Historical Society, we saw two clippings of wanted runaway slave advertisements, with the end goal being that we had to compare the two advertisements to the events in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. They were both roughly 2.5 x 3 in size. The clippings themselves had been faded with time, but still legible overall. Our group specifically looked at two newspaper clippings in which rewards were posted in search of runaway slaves.

According to the chapter “Profile of a Runaway”, the type of slave most likely to attempt escape were male field-hands in their late teens/early twenties, and these two runaway’s fit the standard description. These newspaper ads, most likely written and funded by the slave owners, had the language and the tone of an open ad for any lost object, the reward being twenty/twenty five dollars. They consisted of short paragraphs that described the workers’ location, looks and their skills. The clothes they worse while making their escape played a particularly important role, especially if the slave did not bring a change of clothing. In these advertisements, they were described as wearing homespun vests, suits, trousers, and hats. The location was also a standout feature, as it confirms the existence of slavery close to home (in this case, Queens County/Great Neck, Long Island).

The skills and appearance of the runaway slaves played a significant role to the ad; these things determined the “worth” of the slave concerning the reward price. This mirrors the information the “Runaway Slave Profile” text, which speaks to how, the lighter complexion, the “better” a slave may have been treated and may have been “worth”. One of the ads describes a slave’s complexion as “yellow”, and according to the statements made in the “Runaway Slave Profile,” it is no coincidence that the ad featured this description.

In applying this to Beloved, Sethe and Paul D were both runaway’s when they escaped Sweet Home and headed north for Ohio. To this end, they had to walk across a path that ran through a mountainous forest and river. Beforehand, Sethe had been raped and beaten. She was pregnant throughout her escape, and went into labor before she’d reached her destination. Paul D, on the other hand, ran to avoid being sold of to another plantation. As such, their circumstances were far more severe than the slaves in the wanted ad—at least, from what we know.

(NOTE: I had difficulty attaching the photos. If anyone knows how, letting me know would be much appreciated – Damaris)

Tags: BHS, Slavery, Beloved