Discussion: The Bondwoman’s Narrative

Below are some questions to consider while reading Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative. Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

What do you think the purpose of the book is?

How does the author present slavery as an institution?

How does she characterise enslaved people?

Which aspects of the story did you find particularly moving or memorable?

What do you think of the choices Hannah makes in the tale?

What do you think of Hannah Crafts’ ability as a storyteller?

What was your favourite part of the book?

What do you think will be your lasting impression of The Bondwoman’s Narrative?

If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?

1 comment on “Discussion: The Bondwoman’s Narrative

  1. I really enjoyed reading this book! The story behind it is so amazing as well; I think I enjoyed it even more having read Gates’ detailed introduction and endnotes, both of which helped me notice references and stylistic details as well as linking it to other historical events/people. Having also recently read Angela Davis’ ‘Women, Race, and Class’ (non-fiction), it resonated with much of what I’d read there about Black women and slavery in the US. Nevertheless, it was the first time I’ve read about the hierarchies among slaves too; and despite ‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’ being clearly fictionalised I still felt like I learnt a lot.

    I think what I found most remarkable about the book is how Crafts writes about everyday life under slavery – not really describing it as all as a fictional ‘setting’, but rather as an obvious and unremarkable backdrop to life. She reflects powerfully on the horrible nature of slavery and racism, yet does so through stories about nuanced people and complex relationships. She also reflects on the atrocities of slavery, not only physical hardship and torture but also the terrorising uncertainty of not being in control of your own life, body, or future.

    I was also struck by how in several parts of the book, the protagonist seems almost in the background of others’ stories. Her devotion to her fleeing Mistress seemed surprising, how she still harboured so much sympathy and even love for her. Moreover, it was somewhat refreshing that despite the romantic/gothic style, there wasn’t really any romance plotline for Hannah herself (apart from her devotion to God). Instead, this is a story of a woman’s life and eventual empowerment over that life. On the note of style, there are of course some now clichéd details (the foreboding weather-changes, the range of coincidental reunions, and so on), but I actually enjoyed how she mixed styles; as Gates described it, showing the influences of the authors’ own reading.

    I think it’s impossible reading the book without speculating on the context of its writing and real author! I would love to know what Hannah’s own motivation was, and who read it before it eventually came into the hands of Dorothy Porter. Based on the paper analysis, it was clearly written shortly after her escape; yet, despite the few crossed out words and spelling mistakes, it seems extraordinary to me (as an active user of spellchecker and the delete-button) that this was a first draft. How long had she carried the early ideas for the story? Who else heard snippets of it? Who did she hope would read it? Who was her own intended or envisioned audience? Would she want to be identified?

    Either way, this is a book that will remain with me for a long time, and I am already telling others they need to read it too. Apologies for the yet again lengthy comment, but thank you for suggesting this book!


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