Designs against Tara: Frances Gaither's The Red Cock Crows and other counternarratives to Gone with the Wind.
Both the legal wrangling and the critical praise for Randall's puncturing of racist myths suggest that The Wind Done Gone constitutes an innovative and radical challenge to a once hegemonic discourse about slavery and race in American culture. Indeed, conventional wisdom suggests that such counternarratives to the official historical record are very much a product of contemporary culture and postmodernism. According to this view, there is tittle subversive about the traditional historical novel, which simply seeks, according to its classic theorist, Georg Lukacs, to present an "artistic demonstration of historical reality" (50) and to evoke, as Avrom Fleishman argues, "the feeling of how it was to be alive in another age" (4). In contrast, Brian McHale characterizes the postmodern historical novel as a revisionist fiction that reinterprets the historical record, "demystifying or debunking the orthodox version of the past" (90). Linda Hutcheon, meanwhile, observes that the "new skepticism or suspicion about the writing of history found in the work of [postmodern theorists] Hayden White and Dominick LaCapra is mirrored in the internalized challenges to historiography in novels like Shame, The Public Burning, or A Maggot" (106). Critics who have focused upon fiction specifically concerned with American slavery make very similar arguments. Ashraf Rushdy asserts that a series of cultural and social developments in the late 1960s led to the development of a new counter-discourse about slavery in American culture, and a new kind of fiction about it that is characterized by "a renewed respect for the truth and value of slave testimony, the significance of slave cultures, and the importance of slave resistance" (4).
This critical orthodoxy has, however, tended to divert literary scholars from a full appreciation and proper examination of dissenting historical counternarratives produced by novelists earlier in the twentieth century. In his comprehensive study, Slavery and Race in American Popular Culture, William Van Deburg provides a devastating critique of Gone with the Windas both book and film (104-07, 125-27), but he refers only in passing to a radical and subversive novel about slavery by an African American writer published the very same year as Mitchell's opus--Black Thunder, Arna Bontemps's recreation of the Richmond slave rebellion of 1800 (104). Van Deburg also largely overlooks a striking portrayal of slavery and insurrection produced by a white writer in this era: he buries a single passing reference to Frances Gaither's impressive tale of an 1835 slave rebellion in Mississippi, The Red Cock Crows (1944), in his footnotes (206). Black Thunder and The Red Cock Crows, however, vividly demonstrate that both black and white writers in the 1930s and 1940s challenged romanticized representations of slavery and racist constructions of slave personalities long before the emergence of postmodernism or the literature of the Civil Rights era. While scholars in recent decades have begun to pay attention to Bontemps's achievement in Black Thunder, Gaither's The Red Cock Crows--consistently out of print since its first appearance--remains unjustly forgotten. (1)
Gaither's fiction--published eight years after Mitchell's novel and five years after the appearance of its film adaptation--can be read as a powerful counternarrative to Gone with the Wind, and is certainly a novel that emphasizes the importance of slave resistance. The Red Cock Crows critiques the white Southern idealization of slavery presented in works of history such as Ulrich B. Phillips's American Negro Slavery (1918) and popularized by Mitchell's novel. Gaither's text questions the mythology which claimed that slavery was a harmonious system and that enslaved African Americans were loyal and content. Instead the narrative presents slave characters who actively desire freedom and are prepared to take daring and revolutionary steps to achieve it. Almost sixty years before The Wind Done Gone, Gaither's novel spoke back very eloquently to Gone with the Wind. For all its considerable achievements, however, The Red Cock Crows is ultimately compromised in its efforts to overturn the idealized image of the antebellum South that Mitchell's novel so successfully perpetuated. Curiously, however, this failure resulted less from limitations in Gaither's view of slavery and race than from shortcomings in her treatment of class--a shortcoming that would similarly plague Alice Randall's designs against the Tara plantation in 2001.
Gone with the Wind appeared at the very moment that a new generation of historians was overturning the dominant vision of slavery that had been propounded by white Southern historians in the early twentieth century. The popular success of Mitchell's fiction, both as literary bestseller and Hollywood phenomenon, provided widespread legitimacy for the traditional white Southern view of slavery--just as it was becoming anachronistic in historiography. Gone with the Wind encapsulates the moonlight-and- magnolias image of the South in its idyllic portrait of antebellum life on the Tara plantation in Georgia, with its benign slavery and contentedly loyal slaves--and it provides a mournful portrait of the destruction of this society by the Civil War. Yet Gone with the Wind modifies this myth in an unusual way. While the novel is often openly racist, it obfuscates the nature of American slavery and consequent divisions in US society by constructing them as questions of social class, not of race. This approach helped to ensure that the white myth of the antebellum South would continue to be compelling to a national audience and, indeed, has confounded the would-be challengers of Mitchell's novel ever since.
The world of Gone with the Wind is organized fundamentally along class lines rather than race hierarchies. The admirable characters and primary protagonists of the novel are either members of the white Southern planter aristocracy or the black house-servant class. All of Mitchell's famous characters--Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashley and Melanie Wilkes, Mammy, Prissy, and Uncle Peter--belong to one of these elite groups. The peripheral, largely anonymous, and often villainous masses in the book are the Yankees, poor Southern whites, and the disloyal lower class of slaves: the field hands.
Gone with the Wind constructs a slave population that is split dramatically between the exceptional class of house slaves, which is vividly dramatized in the novel, and the lowly caste of field hands, which is utterly invisible during the novel's antebellum scenes and which remains faceless and anonymous throughout the remainder of the narrative. Mitchell's book even argues that slavery operated as a fair and just meritocracy for African Americans, by providing a system in which the talented, responsible, and industrious earned liberal rewards:
[P]lantation mistresses throughout the South had put the piccaninnies through courses of training and elimination to select the best of them for positions of greater responsibility. Those consigned to the fields were the ones least willing or able to learn, the least energetic, the least honest and trustworthy, the most vicious and brutish. (654)
Gone with the Wind thus suggests that people became field hands not because of an oppressive labor system oriented around race but because they proved incapable of fulfilling higher social occupations and roles, despite the opportunities supposedly given them. Mitchell's text presents those slaves who successfully passed these training courses as a monolithic group: a black upper class, whose members, without exception, utterly identify with the South's white aristocrats rather than with lower-class members of their own race. Every one of Mitchell's fully delineated black characters hails from this slave elite. Mammy, for example, is proud that she was born in the "great house and not in the quarters, and had been raised in Ole Miss' bedroom" (454).
Lower-class blacks only assume significance (and then only as a group rather than as individuals) in Gone with the Wind's second half, which is set after the Civil War. Like its portrayal of slavery, however, the novel's white Southern propagandist portrayal of Reconstruction--in which "the negroes were living in leisure while their former masters struggled and starved" (657)--operates specifically in terms of class rather than race. After Appomattox, the narrative claims, "[t]housands of house servants, the highest caste in the slave population, remained with their white folks.... but the hordes of 'trashy free issue niggers,' who were causing most of the trouble, were drawn largely from the field-hand class" (654).
As the loyal black butler Pork points out, it is only "dem trashy niggers" that choose to follow the Yankees and assert their freedom rather than to stay behind to help their defeated masters (407). The novel explicitly identifies those blacks who are audacious enough to want to vote, who insolently push whites off sidewalks, and who supposedly perpetrate "a large number of outrages" against white women, as being members of the lower class (656). Scarlett O'Hara is shocked at reports of black "impudence" because "she had never seen an insolent negro in her life" (521). Scarlett, of course, has known only well-bred house slaves, not the vulgar lower class that proves itself capable of "outrages" against whites. Mammy, although black, is herself scathing towards the "impident-lookin'" and "trashy" " [f]ree issue country niggers" who flood Atlanta after the war (555,598). While loyal former house-slaves like Uncle Peter are "far too well bred to want to vote" (561), the "former field-hands found themselves suddenly elevated" to positions of power in the Georgia state legislature:
There they conducted themselves as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to do. Like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects whose value is beyond their comprehension, they ran wild--either from a perverse pleasure in destruction or simply because of their ignorance. (654)
While Mitchell's offensive racial prejudices are palpable in this passage, she always rhetorically constructs those prejudices in terms of class: in Gone with the Wind it is specifically lower-class blacks who are ignorant, childlike creatures of little intelligence.
Similarly, Mitchell's novel also identifies black sexual assault of white women as a crime perpetrated exclusively by lower-class African Americans. At one point, Scarlett is menaced by a black rapist from the sinister Shantytown, the population of which consists of "outcast negroes, black prostitutes and a scattering of poor whites of the lowest order" (777-78). She is saved from assault only by the sudden reappearance of Sam, the loyal Tara driver. (2) Again and again, Gone with the Wind distinguishes between decent, three-dimensional, elite African Americans who play a positive and constructive role in Southern society, and brutish, anonymous, lower-class blacks who are ill-equipped for the responsibilities of freedom and who threaten social stability.
It is not simply that black house servants consider themselves superior to lower-class people of color. In the novel's antebellum scenes, the elite slaves of Tara fervently believe that their association with the master class places them higher in the social hierarchy than non-slaveholding whites like the Wilkerson and Slattery families:
The house negroes of the county considered themselves superior to white trash and their unconcealed scorn stung [Tom Slattery], while their more secure position in life stirred his envy. By contrast with his own miserable existence, they were well-fed, well-clothed and looked after in sickness and old age. They were proud ... to belong to people who were quality, while he was despised by all. (49-50)
Mammy even objects to the philanthropic devotion of Scarlett's mother, Ellen O'Hara, to the local poor whites, opining that "Dey is de shiflesses', mos' ungrateful passel of no-counts livin'. An' Miss Ellen got no bizness weahin' herseff out waitin' on folks dat did dey be wuth shootin' dey'd have niggers to wait on dem" (65). Mammy's dubious judgment of the Slatterys is validated by the narrative, for it is through nursing the typhoid-ridden Slatterys that Ellen contracts the disease herself and dies.
Few lower-class white characters play a significant role in the novel, and the book's rhetoric demonizes those few to the same extent that it demonizes the black field-hand class. Early in the narrative, Ellen discharges Jonas Wilkerson, the Tara plantation's Yankee overseer, for casually impregnating the unmarried lower-class Emmie Slattery. Wilkerson re-emerges during Reconstruction as a grasping Carpetbagger with ambitions to extort Tara from its rightful owners. The lower-class white characters who are introduced in the novel's second half are even less appealing. An enigmatic brute named Archie, who briefly serves as Scarlett's coachman, has an irrational, obsessive hatred of all blacks, women, and Northerners (750). Johnnie Gallegher, the foreman at Scarlett's mill, exploits its convict laborers so cruelly that even the ruthless Scarlett is shocked (783-87). The only working-class white character to emerge from the novel with any integrity and decency is the Confederate veteran Will Benteen, who, like the elite blacks in the book, dedicates himself to helping Tara's struggling aristocrats after the Civil War and who earns the hand of Scarlett's sister in marriage for such devotion. What bestows virtue and nobility upon a lower-class person in Gone with the Wind, whether white or black, is dedication to the cause of the aristocracy and the social status quo. Benteen, Mammy, Uncle Peter, and their ilk become honorary members of the white upper class by devoting themselves to its welfare and its status.
For all her overt racism, then, Mitchell constructs her romanticized portrait of slavery and her demeaning portrayal of African Americans in Gone with the Wind chiefly in terms of class. Mitchell's racial prejudices are undeniable, but the rhetoric of her novel judges particular classes, not races of people. It is thus not sufficient for a critique of the novel merely to challenge its idealized portrayal of the institution of slavery and its racist depictions of African Americans. A truly successful counternarrative to Gone with the Wind must dismantle, and provide alternatives to, the constructions of class that undergird the book's conceptualization of Southern society.
One of the key historical studies of slavery before the 1950s, Herbert Aptheker's American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), is just such a counternarrative. Aptheker's central purpose was to challenge the pervasive white Southern view of slavery which claimed that African Americans were "easily intimidated [and] incapable of deep plots" (qtd. in Aptheker 12). In answer to such assertions, American Negro Slave Revolts provides an extensive catalogue of slave rebellions and establishes the existence of a significant tradition of collective resistance by American slaves. Furthermore, Aptheker's subsidiary theses explicitly address the class dimensions of slave insurrection:
Two additional facts of interest appear from the study. These are, first, that occasionally the plans or aspirations of the rebels were actually reported as going beyond a desire for personal freedom and envisioning, in addition, a property redistribution; and, second, that white people were frequently implicated--or believed to be implicated--with the slaves in the plans or efforts to overthrow the master class by force. (162-63)
Aptheker's qualification of this second point--"beheved to be implicated"-indicates a significant tension in his argument. As a card-carrying Communist, Aptheker aims to demonstrate that African American slaves and working-class whites often united across racial lines because of a sense of shared class interests. Throughout his study, Aptheker emphasizes the contributions of proletarian whites to acts of slave resistance. At the same time, however, Aptheker is also determined to dispute the prevalent idea that slave rebellions were rare and that when they did occur they were usually instigated and led by white abolitionists (105). Consequently, then, in order to assert that slaves were autonomously militant and did not depend upon white aid and inspiration to revolt, Aptheker's text frequently disputes alleged connections between white abolitionists and slave insurrections. "It is simple," he argues, "to find any number of statements intimating or boldly affirming that the Abolitionists were responsible for slave unrest ... but is far from simple to find substantiation for these assertions" (105). In short, Aptheker found himself in the complicated position of attempting to demonstrate, on one hand, that reports of slave revolts planned by white conspirators are erroneous, whereas, on the other hand, reports of insurrections organized by slaves themselves but which involved white allies as equals are genuine
This may sound like a torturous argument, but recent historiography suggests that it is largely a correct one. While even sympathetic scholars have concluded that Aptheker significantly overstated the number of slave rebellions, contemporary historians have tended to confirm his characterization of slave insurrections as being often class-oriented and sometimes interracial in nature--with whites involved as equal allies, not leaders. (3) In Gabriel's Rebellion (1993), Douglas Egerton argues that the 1800 Richmond slave conspiracy was as much a class rebellion as it was a racial one. Egerton notes that, according to trial testimony, Gabriel, the insurrection's leader, defined his enemy as the merchants who dominated Richmond's economy, not whites in general (28). In addition, Gabriel ordered that all those "friendly to liberty"--Quakers, Methodists, Frenchmen, and poor white women--should be spared during the planned assault on Richmond, and he apparently even recruited several working-class whites to his campaign, with the hope that others would join when the revolution began (51, 56, 49). (4) Furthermore, a white ship's captain almost transported Gabriel to safety after the failure of the plot (105-06, 177). Egerton also finds compelling evidence that "two Frenchmen" played a significant role in the uprising. Gabriel's insurrection is far from the only American slave rebellion that seems to have possessed a class dimension as well as a racial one. Recent studies of Denmark Vesey's 1822 conspiracy suggest that the former slave who aimed to raze Charleston also had his white sympathizers. According to Edward Pearson, in the aftermath of the abortive Vesey plot, one white man told a group of free blacks that there should be an attempt to rescue the imprisoned African American conspirators (147). Finally, Stephen B. Oates notes that even the messianic Nat Turner spared one white household when he blazed his trail of destruction through rural Virginia in 1831 apparently "because he believed the poor white inhabitants 'thought no better of themselves than they did of negroes'" (88).
The feasibility of such active interracial sympathies and even alliances amongst the lower classes is something that Gone with the Wind essentially denies. While repeatedly asserting the common values and interests of aristocratic whites and black house servants, Mitchell's novel resolutely refuses to address the corresponding possibility that lowerclass whites and blacks might have united because of a similar sense of shared class status. It is true that the white Jonas Wilkerson makes "a great to-do about being equal with the negroes, ate with them, visited in their houses, rode them around in his carriages, put his arms around their shoulders" (539). This occurs, however, only after the end of slavery and is presented as an example of a Northern Carpetbagger's cynical attempts to manipulate black people for his own political gain, rather than as evidence of a class-oriented sense of interracial equality. As the narrative puts it, former field hands
were, as a class, childlike in mentality, easily led and from long habit accustomed to taking orders. Formerly their white masters had given the orders. Now they had a new set of masters, the [Freedmen's] Bureau and the Carpetbaggers, and their orders were "You're just as good as any white man, so act that way. Just as soon as you can vote the Republican ticket, you are going to have the white man's property." (654)
Wilkerson does not identify his interests with those of Southern blacks but simply keeps "the darkies stirred up" for his own political designs (646). It takes one of the book's elite blacks, Sam the driver, to see through such hypocritical exploitation during the short time he spends with a white family in the North. "Dey treat me lak Ah jes' as good as dey wuz," he tells Scarlett, "but in dere hearts dey din' like me--dey din' lak no niggers" (781). Furthermore, in the antebellum portion of the novel, poor whites are portrayed as more likely to envy, rather than identify with, the social position of slaves. Tom Slattery, for example, professes to hate "rich folks' uppity niggers"--clearly referring specifically to the elite house slaves of Tara (49). Since Gone with the Wind barely acknowledges the field-hand class of slaves, the reader never has to consider what Slattery's attitudes might be towards--or what he might share in common with--its members. Only in its brief depiction of the notorious Shantytown on the edge of postwar Atlanta does the book even vaguely suggest the existence of an interracial lower-class community, and this it demonizes as a refuge for outcasts and criminals.
Aptheker's historical study provides a striking alternative to the picture painted by Gone with the Wind by arguing that enslaved African Americans often consciously identified their interests as intersecting with those of lower-class whites and that the two groups sometimes united in an equal partnership, rather than radical whites simply exhorting slaves to revolt. Aptheker, furthermore, implicitly rejects Mitchell's assertion that elite blacks and the white planter class had common interests. He shows that members of the slave elite actually led many slave insurrections, including the artisan blacksmith Gabriel, the literate Nat Turner, and the onetime house-slave Denmark Vesey. Aptheker's emphasis on class and interracial alliances in the antebellum South serves not only to dismantle the dominant historiography of the early twentieth century but also persuasively refutes Gone with the Wind's portrait of the class structure of Old Dixie. Whatever the limitations of his study, Aptheker nonetheless constructed a compelling narrative that engages with Mitchell's most fundamental assertions.
Frances Gaither's The Red Cock Crows emerged the year after Aptheker's analysis of slave militancy had radically challenged received ideas about slavery within the historical profession. But it also emerged into an American cukure that had been hypnotized by Gone with the Wind's vision of slavery for almost a decade. Gaither's novel stages an encounter between Mitchell's and Aptheker's texts: it is a plantation romance about a slave uprising. The Red Cock Crows projects Aptheker's visions of violent slave rebellions onto the placid idyll of a Tara-esque Mississippi plantation.
The Red Cock Crows begins with the arrival of Adam Fiske, a Northern schoolteacher, in the community of the Forks and Scott's Bluff, Mississippi, in the 1830s. While running a schoolhouse on the Shandy plantation belonging to Ward Dalton, Fiske falls for Fannie, the Southern patriarch's daughter. Dalton, however, refuses to allow Fannie to marry a Northerner, and she becomes engaged instead to a young planter named Trooper Clay. While this sentimental plot unfolds, Scofield, the Shandy driver, begins plotting a slave insurrection. When a local white woman overhears two slaves planning violence, the community forms a Committee of Safety to investigate the conspiracy. Vigilante violence swiftly consumes the Forks, and the committee rapidly devolves into a kangaroo court, resulting in the hangings of a number of largely innocent people, both white and black. Fiske's rather vague anti-slavery sentiments are sufficient for the committee to convict him, and he is saved only when Scofield is finally arrested and testifies to Fiske's innocence--to the chagrin of the resentful Trooper Clay. The committee expels Fiske from the region, while Fannie--who is increasingly distraught at Trooper's callous attitude towards her slaves--abruptly flees her fiance and the South in search of the exiled schoolteacher.
Rather than completely reversing Gone with the Wind's portrayal of slavery, The Red Cock Crows undermines it from within, appearing to replicate it only to dismantle it. Thus the narrative begins with a Northerner's surprised discovery of the relatively benign nature of slavery. Adam Fiske is pleasantly taken aback on his first day at Shandy to learn that slaves are not obliged to work on Saturday afternoons and that their masters throw parties for them on weekends (12-13). It also becomes apparent that several of the Dalton slaves possess considerable material wealth of their own: "Aunt Sarah ... had by popular boast two trunks crammed full of dresses and gold trinkets given to her by her white folks. Scofield owned the horse he rode. Montgomery had large sums lent out to planters all over the Forks" (52). Furthermore, there is no physical cruelty or corporal punishment at Shandy. "It just wasn't done.... Nobody struck a Negro in anger. Once an overseer had been fired for doing it. Even official whippings were rarely administered and then only as a last resort for flagrant crime such as stabbing or infidelity" (145). In addition, the ruling white class considers the idea of dividing slave families by sale to be quite inconceivable. Two of Fannie's slaves have "most inconveniently acquired wives and children, from whom, of course, they could not be separated" (307). The general opinion of the community is that "ain't ary one of Dalton's niggers would run if a good-natured white man was to write out a pass and put it in his hands" (95).
Such assertions may seem merely to repeat the idealized picture of slavery created by white Southern writers like Mitchell and historians like Ulrich Phillips, but they can be explained on two counts. First, those like Mitchell and Phillips who are inclined to claim that slavery could be a benevolent institution are, unfortunately, not entirely without historical evidence to substantiate their arguments. Even today, historians such as Eugene Genovese concede that some slaves did indeed, as The Red Cock Crows suggests, work only a half-day on Saturday and often enjoyed weekend parties given by their masters, and that slaves sometimes did amass relatively considerable material wealth (Roll 566-67, 569, 313-14). Second, with the American popular mind so in thrall to Gone with the Wind, had Gaither depicted slavery as merely brutish and oppressive, she would likely have alienated many potential readers. In order to critique Gone with the Wind successfully, Gaither had first to construct a world somewhat akin to the one that Mitchell's novel portrays.
Gaither's astute strategy is to acknowledge that a number of slaveholders may indeed have developed principles of benevolent paternalism like those romanticized in Mitchell's novel, but her novel also emphasizes how such principles frequently could be violated in practice. The assertion that slave families are never divided at Shandy is made but a few pages before Trooper Clay decides to break this tradition, claiming "I've more women and children now than I know what to do with and, bad as I need two good field-hands, I don't believe it would be worth my while to take on their families" (308). This scene contrasts ironically with an early scene in Gone with the Wind in which Scarlett's father spends an inordinate amount of money to purchase the wife and daughter of his loyal slave butler from another slaveholder, and jokingly declares that "never again will I let a darky on this place marry off it. It's too expensive" (33). The Red Cock Crows suggests that the paternal generosity of a Gerald O'Hara was much less likely in practice than the cold, businesslike decisions of a Trooper Clay.
Gaither's narrative additionally emphasizes the gap between paternalist principles and the actual practices of slaveholding by having Fannie's musings about the absence of physical punishment at Shandy occur just at the point that she loses her temper and strikes Sack, her maid (144). This is another moment in Gaither's text that parallels a crucial episode in Gone with the Wind. While Mitchell's book essentially portrays slavery as kindly and lenient, it also provides a dramatic (and famous) scene in which Scarlett angrily hits Prissy, her maid when Prissy fails to find a doctor in besieged Atlanta to attend Melanie, who is in labor (358). To compound this failure, Prissy then confesses that her earlier claim to be an experienced midwife was an outright lie. Scarlett "had never struck a slave in all her life, but now she slapped the black cheek with all the force in her tired arm" (366). The narrative encourages the reader to accept that Prissy is entirely deserving of this blow, and that Scarlett's response--if less than proper--is nonetheless appropriate. When Prissy should have been desperately hurrying to find a doctor, Scarlett sees her "idling along as if she had the whole day before her" (353); even when reprimanded by Scarlett, Prissy still "saunter[s] down the walk at a snail's gait" (354). After the slap, however, Scarlett sends Prissy on another errand and watches her "hurrying down the street, going faster than she had ever dreamed the worthless child could move" (369). The novel thus implies that while slavery was never cruel, firm discipline was often necessary and effective. Indeed, later in the novel, Prissy's own mother, Dilcey, beats her for similar failings. When Tara's house-slaves are reduced to picking cotton after the war has devastated the South, "Prissy picked lazily, spasmodically, complaining ... until her mother took a cotton stalk to her and whipped her until she screamed. After that she worked a little better" (456). Scarlett's slap is mild compared to Dilcey's whipping, but both are shown to be effective ways of disciplining a difficult child and slave.
In sharp contrast, The Red Cock Crows has Fannie instantly and deeply regret striking Sack. Indeed, Fannie's "sense of her own guilt was so overwhelming that she almost forgot Sack had been at all in the wrong" (145). She apologizes desperately to Sack for the blow, even begging her forgiveness (145). The difference between Scarlett and Fannie could hardly be clearer. Unlike Gone with the Wind, Gaither's novel does not suggest that striking a slave might have beneficial results. The book thus critiques the idea that any form of physical punishment can be considered reasonable, even as it suggests that slavery made such violence inevitable. Scarlett, after all, is not an entirely sympathetic character, but if the system can drive so virtuous an individual as Fannie to strike a slave, then any slaveholder could be capable of violence.
More important, however, than Scarlett's and Fannie's very different reactions in each instance are the personalities and intentions of those whom they strike. Gone with the Wind presents Prissy as being lazy, incapable, and stupidly oblivious. After Melanie's delivery, Prissy opines, "We done right good, Miss Scarlett. Ah specs Maw couldn'a did no better" (371). Scarlett, however, recalls the situation somewhat differently, noting only "Prissy's offenses--her boastful assumption of experience she didn't possess, her fright, her blundering awkwardness ... the misplacing of the scissors ... the dropping of the new-born baby" (371). The central implication of the book's portrayal of Prissy is that many African Americans required the discipline and structure of slavery--that, as Phillips, the Southern historian, put it, "plantations were the best schools yet invented for the mass training of that sort of inert and backward people which the bulk of American negroes represented" (343).
The scene in which Scarlett slaps her maid, however, also problematizes this characterization of Prissy. When Prissy reports her failure to locate a doctor for Melanie, we see her "dragging out her words pleasurably to give more weight to her message" (353). Scarlett is enraged and reflects that "Negroes were always so proud of being the bearers of evil tidings" (353). This suggests a rather different way of interpreting Prissy's "idling along as if she had the whole day before her" (353). Everywhere else, the novel depicts Prissy as being merely congenitally lazy and of defective intelligence. But here, for a brief moment, there is a hint that malevolent intention lies behind Prissy's behavior, not just simple incapability. In this one scene, Prissy seems to take genuine pleasure in telling Scarlett that no doctor is available to help the pregnant Melanie and she apparently deliberately tarries in her errand to seek such assistance. More significantly, in the heat of the moment, Scarlett herself suggests that such behavior is far from exclusive to Prissy when she muses that black people in general take actual pride in delivering bad news to their white masters.
There is an intriguing paradox here. Prissy's conduct is utterly unlike that of the other, tirelessly loyal slaves in Gone with the Wind, yet Scarlett also suggests that her behavior is far from unusual. There is a simple explanation for this apparent inconsistency: Prissy does not really belong in the house-servant class. When Prissy accompanies Scarlett and her baby to Atlanta, we learn that
Prissy was not the most adequate of nurses. Her recent graduation from a skinny piccaninny with brief skirts and stiffly wrapped braids into the dignity of a long calico dress and starched white turban was an intoxicating affair. She would never have arrived at this eminence so early in life had not the exigencies of the war and the demands of the commissary department on Tara made it impossible for Ellen to spare Mammy or Dilcey or even Rosa or Teena. (144)
One suspects that, had it not been for the exigencies of war, Prissy might well never have arrived at this eminence at all. Her premature graduation has probably saved her from flunking out of the house-servant class altogether. Prissy may even have received special consideration denied more able slaves because both her parents--Pork the butler and Dilcey the midwife--are prominent members of Tara's elite caste. In normal circumstances, Prissy, on coming of age, would surely have been consigned to the fields alongside those others "least willing or able to learn, the least energetic, the least honest and trustworthy, the most vicious and brutish" (Mitchell 654).
Prissy, in other words, brings the qualities that Gone with the Wind identifies with the black lower class into the ranks of the house-servant elite--and thus directly into a novel in which the field-hand class has otherwise been thoroughly erased. This is why Mitchell demonizes Prissy as she demonizes no other black character. On the face of it, Scarlett's observation that "Negroes were always so proud of being the bearers of evil tidings" does not mesh with the portrayal of individual African Americans elsewhere in the novel (353). It is impossible to conceive of either Mammy or Uncle Peter acting in such a fashion. What Scarlett really means is that it is black people like Prissy who actively enjoy delivering bad news to their masters--which is to say those supposedly vicious, dishonest, and brutish slaves who would normally be consigned to the fields.
While Gone with the Wind frequently asserts that the field-hand class of slaves was incapable, lazy and morally backwards, it also continually implies that slavery successfully regimented this class. The text argues that it was the freedom for which this class was unequipped and the cynical manipulations of Yankees that drove lower-class Southern blacks to commit outrages against former masters. Such behavior, the narrative implies, was quite unknown before emancipation. By making the slave lower class entirely invisible during the novel's antebellum sequences, the book is able to avoid acknowledging the possibility that this group might have been capable of bitter resentment of, and potential violence towards, whites while still in bondage. The pleasure that Prissy takes in the misfortunes of Scarlett and Melanie, however, suggests that the black lower class did not love its white rulers, either before or after slavery--and was even capable of deliberately discomforting the master class and enjoying the discomfort it caused.
The Red Cock Crows makes utterly explicit the resentment and potential violence of slaves that Mitchell's novel only fleetingly implies.
Fannie Dalton strikes Sack for two reasons: because she seems to have deliberately endangered the life of a white baby and because she seems to be threatening further violence against whites. Fannie questions Sack as to where the slave has taken a Dalton infant and is shocked to learn that Sack carried the child down to the slave quarters, which are in the midst of a whooping cough epidemic. In response to Fannie's outburst about the dangers of infection, Sack, aware of the impending insurrection, makes the ominous pronouncement "Hit don't make no matter what [the baby] catch now," causing Fannie to lose her temper and hit her (144). Prissy's incompetent midwifery and Mitchell's vague inferences about her resentful resistance have become, in The Red Cock Crows, Sack's deliberate attempt to endanger a white infant's life and an explicit threat of violent revolution. (5)
One of the central points of The Red Cock Crows is that even the most benevolent form of slavery is still slavery, and that those who are enslaved deeply resent it. While Gaither's text subtly undermines the idea of benign paternalist slavery at certain points, it still largely constructs slavery as a relatively mild institution. The novel's conspiracy, however, allegedly involves hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people from all classes of the slave population (205). The African American characters in the novel are not rebelling against cruelty and oppression but against a liberal and relatively kindly institution. They are planning to slaughter not Simon Legrees but Gerald O'Haras.
The book underlines this point when Fannie Dalton's grandfather, a well-meaning but ineffectual judge, observes, "it's hungry people who make the revolutions.... Our people are too well-fed, too comfortable all around to cut our throats" (136). A quarter of a century later, William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner would echo this moment in its portrayal of the bewilderment of lawyer Thomas Gray at Turner's murder of a master who the militant slave himself concedes was generous and benevolent. "How do you explain that?" Gray demands, "A man you admit is kind and gentle to you and you butcher in cold blood" (34). The difference is that, while Styron's novel presents this as a riddle--a perplexing and anomalous conundrum that the narrative must somehow explain--The Red Cock Crows is quite ironic when its complacent judge asserts as a truism that "comfortable" slaves do not rebel. At the very moment that the judge makes this statement, Scofield, one of the most privileged slaves owned by the Dalton family, is planning a violent insurrection. While Styron's novel provides an elaborate psychological explanation for the militancy of a single slave, Gaither's text shows that the white ruling class was incredibly naive not to expect the people it enslaved to develop rebellious tendencies. While Mitchell's fiction implies that such attributes were characteristic only of a lower class of slaves, Gaither's rebel leader is Shandy's elite driver.
Mitchell's novel effectively denies it and Styron's Gray fails to comprehend it, but as Aptheker shows and as Gaither's judge discovers, slave insurrections did, in fact, often begin not with the most oppressed but with the best-treated slaves. Indeed, Scofield is probably the most elite slave in the entire community of the Forks. As Scofield himself muses,
A born leader, Mas Ward called him. That's how come to make Scofield driver. A driver has more power than an overseer, if you come right down to it. Overseers are white, but they're here one year and gone the next. A driver stays on and builds up his power year after year. A driver gets to be mighty near the biggest man on the place in time. (97)
Being the local black preacher gives Scofield even greater status in slave society. For Scofield, having slaves of the region depend upon his religious teachings is "like being driver to the whole Forks instead of just one plantation" (98).
That the leader of her novel's conspiracy is such a privileged slave is just one of several indications that Gaither was likely indebted to Aptheker's ideas--which had been published in various journal articles and pamphlets in the late thirties before the appearance of American Negro Slave Revolts in 1943. Certainly Gaither's understanding of the factors commonly underlying slave rebellions closely parallels the historian's theories. (6) For instance, Aptheker observes that "areas of dense Negro population ... were very frequently centers of unrest" (114). He notes, furthermore, that in the immediate area of the origin of the 1835 Mississippi rebellion, Livingston and Beatie's Bluff, "the Negroes outnumbered the whites by fifty to one" (325n). Gaither closely follows Aptheker's lead by asserting early in her novel that "the black population" of her fictional community around the Forks and Scott's Bluff "was to the white as forty to one" (6). Aptheker also asserts that "industrialization and urbanization were phenomena that made the control of slaves more difficult.... The easier acquisition of knowledge, the greater possibility of association, and the greater confidence and assurance that city life and mechanical pursuits developed ... were widely recognized as dangers" (114-15). In Gaither's novel, the seditious talk that leads to rebellion begins not on the plantation but in town, at the shop of the hired-out African American blacksmith, Asa (38).
Gaither's narrative, furthermore, also follows Aptheker's study in making white involvement in slave conspiracies a central theme. The Red Cock Crows dramatizes the idea that, if whites might not have been organizers of slave revolts, they could often be willing participants in them. Members of the Safety Committee simply assume that radical whites must be at the root of the insurrection plot. A single slave's vague hearsay testimony about "an unnamed, friendly, white man" having helped the insurgents purchase arms is enough to confirm this assumption as fact in the eyes of the investigators (196-97). One member of the committee bluntly asks, "Where's the sense in stringin' up a lot of niggers nobody ever hear of whilst the white man that put them up to their meanness gets loose?" (203). Later, two white patrollers discussing the issue voice the opinion that "Some white man would have to be at the bottom of it. For where, after all, could you find a darky capable of the organization and command such a far-reaching plot would require?" (243). This is another ironic moment in the novel, for Scofield, the very type of black rebel that these men declare an impossibility, is eavesdropping on their conversation. Scofield is far from exceptional, however. Unlike Styron's Nat Turner, Scofield does not face the challenge of converting a community of servile slaves into murderous recruits. (7) Instead, The Red Cock Crows presents a slave community that is broadly inclined towards militancy. Long before Scofield has the religious visions that inspire his insurrection plot, slaves like Asa and Tanyard Charlie thrill to the militant words of David Walker's "Appeal" when they hear it read at the blacksmith's shop (38). In short, the reader discovers early in the novel that rebellious talk is prevalent among enslaved African Americans.
I should acknowledge, however, that for all the novel's achievements, Gaither's depiction of people of color is far from immune to racist assumptions. Her female characters are particularly problematic, for Gaither unquestioningly reproduces the tired and dubious stereotype of African American women as oversexed, animalistic "Jezebels." (8) At one point in The Red Cock Crows, furthermore, Gaither refers--apparently without a trace of irony--to the black race as "primitive man" (195). For all the limitations in her racial views, however, Gaither's portrayal of rebellious black slaves is, for the most part, extremely impressive for a white Southern writer in 1944. The scene in which a rebel named Holiness Sam takes a courageous stand against the Safety Committee is one striking instance of Gaither's vivid and sympathetic portrayal of black men: "Sam showed no fear. He was, rather, defiant. He met all questions with stony silence.... The threat of whipping left him unmoved" (211). "Go ahead and hang me, white folks," Sam goads his accusers, "You cut out my heart you can't make me name no name.... Hang me. Burn me. I ain't talkin'" (211).
More significantly, Gaither understands that the passive, childlike "Sambo" persona observed in some slaves--which would be treated as genuine by postwar historian Stanley Elkins--was usually nothing more than an assumed protective mask. (9) In one powerful scene in The Red Cock Crows, the supposedly docile Scofield boldly reveals his rebelliousness to Fiske and shows him a fake pass forged by a white ally. "You know what they do to a white man help a nigger run like that, Mr. Fist? ... They hangs him. White man fist his neck like that must think more of niggers than he do of his own self, don't he, Mr. Fist?" (120). Scofield here is direct and intimidating in his attempt to discover whether Fiske might be a potential recruit for his campaign. Fiske, however, is quite taken aback by such audacity and responds by desperately rejecting both the substance of what Scofield is saying and the personality that says it. Fiske defensively adopts "a brisk, decisive voice" and asserts brusquely that either a literate slave or a slave-stealer aiming to entice a slave "into his own possession" must have written the pass (120). Fiske thus denies the possibility that whites could think of themselves as allies to slaves or that Scofield could possibly be as militant as he suddenly sounds. Rebuffed, Scofield immediately re-adopts the mask and dialect of "Sambo"--what Scofield later calls his "white-folks manners, soft-spoken, self-depreciating" (289):
To [Fiske's] relief, Scofield took up the paper and answered in his everyday agreeable voice. "Yass'r, Mr. Fist. Sho is. Folks say this country jes' crawlin' with nigger-stealers." (120)
Whatever the limitations of the author's racial purview, this is an impressively sophisticated depiction of an enslaved African American by a white writer.
While Gaither's novel dismantles the idea that black revolution required white leaders, The Red Cock Crows does suggest, like Aptheker, that lower-class whites may still have been involved in slave insurrections. The narrative eventually reveals that Scofield persuaded an itinerant and unqualified local quack, or "steam doctor," named Purdy to write the fake pass for a runaway slave before persuading him to join the conspiracy (256). Purdy explains that his motivation was that "the whole Forks turn up their nose at steam-doctors.... Look like I can't make a friend on earth but niggers" (255). But Purdy is anything but an organizing force behind the insurrection; rather Scofield cleverly exploits him. As Purdy tells it, "I swear to God I never put notions in his head. He plan out the whole thing from A to Z.... Well, he give me the pass back to save my neck ... and then he ask me about buyin' him some powder and lead soon as he can raise the money. And I say, 'Sure'" (256).
Although The Red Cock Crows presents a powerful portrayal of slave militancy, and while it flirts boldly with the idea of bi-racial, class-based rebellion, the book's potentially subversive examination of the relationship between class and slave resistance ultimately unravels. The Red Cock Crows finally eschews both the white Southern self-justification of Gone with the Wind and the leftist vision of lower-class interracial solidarity of American Negro Slave Revolts--but it proves unable to construct a coherent alternative to either. The Red Cock Crows daringly addresses the possibility of class alliances across racial boundaries only eventually to re-assert a rather conservative orthodoxy of social stratification that is not sufficiently distinct from the vision of Southern society to be found in Gone with the Wind
The Red Cock Crows ultimately does not portray Purdy's involvement in the slave conspiracy as an act of interracial class-consciousness but instead presents it as a matter of pure self-interest. Purdy eventually confesses that he was motivated primarily by hopes of material gain: "Well, with stores broke open and everything run wild, I figured there'd be a mess of stuff layin' about" (256). If this were not enough, when Purdy suggests to his cellmate, Fiske, that they are blood brothers because they are both likely to be hanged by the Safety Committee, Fiske views Purdy "with more revulsion than ever" (256). A mere twenty pages after this, however, Fiske feels "compassionate, even brotherly, toward Scofield, for surely now their lots were not unlike" (277). Fiske, then, is happy to identify himself with a black slave insurrectionist but is repelled at the thought that there is a connection between himself and a lower-class white who participated in a slave conspiracy. Given that Fiske is the novel's hero, one assumes that the reader is expected to share his respect for Scofield and his disgust at Purdy. In short, the potentially radical portrayal of slave rebellion in The Red Cock Crows founders on what seems to be a rather elitist attitude regarding not race but class.
This attitude, furthermore, is not only apparent in the novel's treatment of working-class whites but also in the considerable lengths to which Gaither goes in order to absolve the white planter class of responsibility for the racist hysteria that seizes the community around the Forks. For one thing, the patriarchs of the planter class are relatively anonymous in, and conveniently absent from, much of the narrative. Ward Dalton, the owner of the Shandy plantation, is often away on business, and, even when he is in residence at Shandy, rarely steps into the forefront of the action. Meanwhile, the men of the Clay family, the other prominent planters in the novel, have been killed in a family scandal before the narrative even begins. Certainly, Fannie's grandfather, the judge, is a prominent character but, as a frail retiree, he is somewhat removed from the business of slaveholding. For much of the novel, the primary inhabitants of the plantations are young women like Fannie Dalton and the Clay sisters. The text not only largely removes slaveholding patriarchs from the picture but also seeks to idealize those few who are present. The aristocratic Malcolm Webb is portrayed as the nearest thing to a voice of sanity on the deadly Safety Committee. He quietly votes against the conviction of one hapless white defendant and publicly attempts to defend Fiske when he is accused. Finally, when the committee banishes Fiske from the Forks, Webb generously donates a fine horse to him. Of the few plantation-owning males with any real prominence in the narrative, Trooper Clay is the closest thing to a villain, and he seems to be determined to convict Fiske primarily because he perceives him as a rival for Fannie's affections. Given the popularity of Gone with the Wind, with its portrait of kindly paternalists like Gerald O'Hara, Gaither probably could not have got away with depicting slaveholders as cruel authoritarian patriarchs. However, by largely removing male plantation-owners from the novel and orienting the narrative around their innocent and compassionate daughters, Gaither essentially replicates rather than challenges some of the stereotypes about slavery that Mitchell's novel perpetuates.
Furthermore, while the novel largely idealizes the white upper class, it specifically identifies lower-class whites as the primary source of racial animosity and violence in the Forks. The so-called Safety Committee that investigates the conspiracy is not directed by the aristocratic planters, for many of them are absent in summer. Instead, small slaveholders and the local slave auctioneer dominate the committee and dictate its activities, in tandem with lower-class law enforcement officials. Before the committee is created, there are brief, informal proceedings, presided over by the upper-class planters, at which slaves are politely questioned. This rational form of inquiry contrasts strikingly with the rabid, bloodthirsty committee, which becomes a "demoniac force" and which slaves take to calling simply "the Death Board" (255, 311). Significantly, it is the "town loafers" and "choicest ruffians" who are responsible for lynching largely innocent slaves in the novel and aristocratic planters who protect blacks from the mob (176, 177, 162).
By romanticizing aristocratic slaveholders and demonizing poorer whites, The Red Cock Crows risks simply repeating Gone with the Wind's claims about a kindly paternalist planter class and a brutish white working class. Gaither's novel flirts with the idea of an interracial alliance amongst the lower classes only to make Purdy, the anomalous white character who joins the slave conspiracy, rather unsympathetic-partly intimidated by Scofield, partly motivated by greed. The real attitude of working-class whites toward African American slaves, Gaither's fiction suggests, is manifested in the mob's reign of terror and lynching. Where Aptheker argues for white working-class involvement in slave insurrections, Gaither insists that the Southern white proletariat was too intrinsically racist for alliances with slaves to be feasible. Such a conclusion effectively prevents The Red Cock Crows from complicating Mitchell's portrait of the class and racial structures of the antebellum South. By emphasizing the paternal generosity of planters and the racism of lower-class whites, and by rejecting the significance of class-based interracial alliances, The Red Cock Crows, for all its achievements, ultimately largely accords with, rather than critiques, Mitchell's vision of the South in Gone with the Wind.
If, however, The Red Cock Crows failed to defeat Gone with the Wind in the cultural Civil War of the early twentieth century, contemporary African American writers sometimes have been little more successful. For all the furor it generated, many reviewers considered Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone a failure in its efforts to dismantle the power of Mitchell's enduring tale. Carolyn See, for one, calls Randall's book an "earnest allegory" in which "soporific solemnity prevails," concluding that "The Gone with the Wind myth, with all its undeniable treacle and creepy racism, is in no danger at all from The Wind Done Gong" (1). In the light of my analysis of Mitchell's and Gaither's novels, it is clear that the limitations of Randall's critique result not from her treatment of race but from her failure to explore the issue of class.
Randall claims that her "unauthorized parody" began with the question, "Where are the mulattos on Tara?" (qtd. in Miller 1). This is a crucial question, for, as Claudia Roth Pierpont points out, Mitchell explicitly describes the Tara slaves as being "shining black," apart from one who is specifically identified as part Indian (qtd. in Miller 3). While the Mitchell Trust continues to forbid depictions of interracial sexual relations in authorized sequels to Gone with the Wind (Miller 3), Randall locates miscegenation at the very center of Mitchell's mythological South, most notably in the form of Cynara, Scarlett's mulatto half-sister and the story's narrator. The Wind Done Gone, however, still fails to give voice to a group of African Americans that is equally anonymous in Mitchell's novel. Randall observes:
When I was looking at critiquing Gone with the Wind, one of the things that occurred to me first was its marginalization of certain types. One group is African Americans. Certainly intelligent African Americans and, specifically, mulattoes are marginalized--excluded as a matter of fact. Another excluded group is gay characters. (qtd. in Goss 1)
Randall, however, seems quite oblivious to the particular act of marginalization that is the very foundation of Mitchell's construction of the South--the erasure of the field-hand class of slaves from the novel. The Wind Done Gone is concerned only with the house-servant class of slave, such as Cynara. Thus, like Frances Gaither before her, Alice Randall fails to dismantle the central ideological hierarchy of Gone with the Wind.
The author wishes to thank Stacy Burton and Scott Casper for their careful reading of drafts of this article and for their invaluable feedback.
Aptheker, Herbert. American Negro Slave Revolts. 1943. New York: International, 1983.
Bontemps, Arna. Black Thunder. 1936. Boston: Beacon, 1968.
Carroll, Joseph Cephas. Slave Insurrections in the United States 1860-1865. 1938 Mineola: Dover, 2004.
Davis, Mary Kemp. "Arna Bontemps' Black Thunder: The Creation of an Authoritative Text of 'Gabriel's Defeat'." Black American Literature Forum 23.1 (1989): 17-36.
Egerton, Douglas R. Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1993.
Elkins, Stanley. Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life. 1959. 2nd ed. 1968. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1971.
Fleishman, Avrom. The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1971.
Gaither, Frances. The Red Cock Crows. New York: Macmillan, 1944.
Genovese, Eugene. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. 1974. New York: Vintage, 1976.
Goss, Fred. "Gay with the Wind." The Advocate 11 September 2001. http://articles.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1589/is_2001_Sept_11/ ai_78265990
Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988.
Levecq, Christine. "Philosophies of History in Arna Bontemps' Black Thunder (1936)." Obsidian III: Literature in the African Diaspora 1.2 (Fall-Winter 2000): 111-30.
Lukacs, Georg. The Historical Novel. 1937. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963.
McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987.
Miller, Laura. "Mammy's Revenge." Salon 2 May 2001. http://dir.salon. com/books/feature/2001/05/02/wind/index.html?pn=1
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind New York: Macmillan, 1936.
Oates, Stephen B. The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner's Fierce Rebellion. 1975. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
Pearson, Edward A., ed. Designs Against Charleston: The Trial Record of the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy of 1822. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1999.
Phillips, U. B. American Negro Slavery. 1918. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1966.
Randall, Alice. The Wind Done Gone. 2001. Boston: Mariner, 2002.
Rushdy, Ashraf. Neo-slave Narratives: Studies in the Social Logic of a Literary/Form. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
Ryan, Tim A. Calls and Responses." American Slavery in Fiction and History Since 1918. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2008.
See, Carolyn. "Scarlett Fever." Washington Post 24 June 2001. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename= article&contentId=A31269- 2001Jun2l¬Found=true
Sadler, Lynn Veach. "The Figure of the Black Insurrectionist in Stowe,
Bouve, Bontemps, and Gaither: The Universality of the Need for Freedom." MAWA Review 2.1 (June 1986): 21-24.
Styron, William. The Confessions of Nat Turner. New York: Random House, 1967.
Van Deburg, William. Slavery and Race in American Popular Culture. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1984.
White, Deborah Gray. Ar'n 't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. 1985. Rev. ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999.
(1) The Red Cock Crows has remained out of print--save for a 1972 paperback edition--since its Armed Services edition of World War Two. Beyond Van Deburg's small footnote, virtually the only scholar to have even acknowledged its existence is Lynne Veach Sadler in "The Figure of the Black Insurrectionist in Stowe, Bouve, Bontemps, and Gaither" (1986). Black Thunder has fared somewhat better. It remains in print, and recent studies of it include those by Mary Kemp Davis and Christine Levecq.
(2) Sam actually identifies himself as a field hand, and he is shocked that Yankees don't understand the fundamental difference between house servants and field hands (780). The fact remains, however, that Sam is not an average slave but the driver. As Eugene Genovese observes, drivers "acted as foremen of the labor gangs and supervisors of the decorum of the quarters" and frequently "became the most important slaves on the place and often knew more about management than did the whites" (365-66). Sam may not be a house servant, but he is as much a part of the slave upper class as Mammy and Pork.
(3) Critics dismissed Aptheker's work as "so subjective and lacking in discrimination that ... [it] scarcely deserves to be classed as history" (qtd. in Aptheker 3). Even more liberal historians of the 1970s, who appreciated Aptheker's desire to locate a revolutionary tradition in African American history, regretfully challenged his "slim evidential base," "exaggerations and doubtful evaluations," and "empirical error" (Genovese 587, 588). The celebrated black historian John Blassingame acknowledged Aptheker's "over-enthusiasm" and rather weakly defended him for being at least "more solidly grounded in the sources than most of his predecessors" (qtd. in Aptheker 9).
(4) Egerton describes how, in the racially mixed workshops of Richmond,
black and white mechanics labored side by side and in the process often developed strong bonds that cut across racial lines.... Laboring together in a small city that was far more integrated than northern urban centers, artisans and unskilled day laborers of both races fell into the natural habit of retiring together to dine and drink.... Many grog shops were infamous, according to one Virginia authority, "for the equality which reigned [between] the blacks and whites".... Over time, a working-class subculture emerged. Apprentice boys, servant girls, bond hirelings, radical whites, free blacks... banded together. (27, 29)
(5) Curiously, however, The Red Cock Crows suggests that Sack, like Prissy, is a field hand who has somehow found her way into the ranks of the slave elite. While criticizing Sack for her treatment of the baby, Fannie mentions that Sack has only recently been brought "into the house to train" (144).
(6) Aptheker first published his scholarship as a two-part article entitled "American Negro Slave Revolts" in Science and Society in 1937 and 1938, and in a pamphlet entitled "Negro Slave Revolts in the United States 1526-1860" in 1939 (Aptheker 5). Other contemporary studies include Slave Insurrections in the United States 1800-1865 (1938) by the black historian, Joseph C. Carroll.
(7) Styron's Nat Turner says of one potential recruit that "the very sight of white skin cowed him, humbled him, diminished him to the most fawning and servile abasement; and I knew that before placing my ultimate trust in him I must somehow eliminate from his character this weakling trait which I had seen before in Negroes" (57).
(8) See Deborah Gray White's Ar'n't I a Woman? (1985) for a consideration of the traditional cultural stereotypes of black female slaves. I explore in detail such stereotypical depictions of African American women in both The Red Cock Crows and Arna Bontemps's Black Thunder in my forthcoming monograph, Calls and Responses: American Slavery in Fiction and History Since 1918.
(9) Elkins articulates his notorious "Sambo thesis" in Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959).
TIM A. RYAN
University of Nevada - Reno
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|Author:||Ryan, Tim A.|
|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2005|
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