This essay situates Henry Bibb's 1849 slave narrative, The Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave, within histories and hermeneutics of antebellum slave incarceration and Cherokee slavery, particularly as they illuminate Bibb's claims to the prohibited roles of husband and father. Chattel slavery compelled a multitude of psychic and familial fractures, a truth that Bibb underscores through the repeated dramatization of his forced separation from his wife and daughter. Resisting a narrative of solitary male freedom, the majority of the text is concerned with the restoration of this family and, in turn, the realization of Bibb's status as a respectable male protector. Bibb's carefully crafted re-memberings of slave incarceration and enslavement in Indian Territory provide him with the means to engender sympathy for his family's dispersal, as well as to inhabit models of patriarchal authority that were denied to male bondspeople. However, quite problematically, the account's vision of masculine devotion largely depends on the invisibility of female agency, penal exploitation, and Native American dispossession, operating as it does under the rubrics of slave imprisonment and Cherokee slavery. Given these significant costs, these rubrics provide fraught terms in articulating the desire for familial reunification and black male authority even as they draw attention to underappreciated ways that black life was circumscribed in the antebellum era.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cultural Studies
- Literature and Literary Theory