George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Not surpisingly in a novel entitled The Slave Girl, Buchi Emecheta rings many changes on the idea of slavery, both literal and metaphorical. Her metaphorical uses of it appear in the fact that, like many Anglo-American feminist abolitionists of the previous century, she uses slavery to represent the position of women, particulary married women. She devotes even more attention to the nature of literal slavery, its economic and social contexts, and the rationlizations of its practitioners. Ma Mee, for example, tells herself "that buying and selling people could not be helped. 'Where would we be without slave labour, and where would some of these unwanted children be without us?' It might be evil, but it was a necessary evil" (Ch 5. 60).

At the novel's conclusion the omnisicent narrator (whose views apparently represent those of Emecheta herself) blames the British for helping spread slavery in their colonies (See materials in the Victorian Web). Earlier, however, the same narrator depicts Ma Palagada, Ojebeta's owner, regretting the way these foreigners have stamped out the international slave trade and thus cut into her business. Okolie, too, ruminates on the changing nature of the slave trade, in part as a way of salving his conscience:

Suppose his sister was sold into slavery to the Potokis, and they took her away across the seas and he never saw her again? He deadened his conscience and reminded himself that the new white men who were now penetrating into their small towns and villages were trying hard to abolish that type of trade. People were not going missing as before. Okolie recollected how in his childhood many young women had been kidnapped in the middle of the night when they went out to their toilet. He could still remember his grandfather coming home with strings of captives after raiding neighbouring villages; some of the captives -- the lucky ones -- were kept as house slaves, but most of them were either taken down to Bonny or sold to people going to Idu. Those were the times when the human market was at its height. Not now. [31]

What ways of thinking, what classificatory systems, or what ideologies, do these people use to justify enslaving others?

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