From a post-colonial point of view, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes is chalk full of oppression, domination, and hegemony. The slave traders think nothing of the lives of the Africans and use them for whatever they want, whether that is farming, cooking, cleaning, or sex. At first Aminata is confident that there was a mistake and as soon as the slavers realize that she is a free-born Muslim, they will let her go. It doesn’t take her very long to figure out how naïve she was though, and she finds that the white men do not care how she was born, only that she is able to work and they have use for her.
The slavers oppress the African peoples first by taking them from their home land. The Africans call them “man-stealers” and warn each other to beware of them. However, this does not really help the, to avoid capture. The men are chained around the neck while the women and children could walk freely during the day, but all captives have their clothes taken – all their clothes – and were then forced to walk to the slave ships. Anyone who retaliated or tried to run was killed. The slaves were kept in gross conditions aboard the ships. They were cramped into tight spaces that were rarely cleaned and reeked of human waste and death. The conditions the slaves were kept in caused much death and sickness and really showed how inhuman the slavers thought they were. No one cared for the slaves or thought of them as people. They only cared that they needed people who were able to work in the rice and sugar fields. The white men worked the slaves to death and beat and raped them along the way.
Mr. Appleby, Aminata’s first owner, definitely thought he had the right to govern her entire life, even her relationships. When he found out that she was secretly seeing Chekura, he took her into his house and asked her, “Who owns you?” (Hill 161) while he raped her. He was so aggressive and angry that she bled out all over the bed. “He owned [he] labour, but now he was bursting to own all of [her]” (Hill 161). He wanted complete control over her and was jealous when another man came to see her, so he humiliated her on more than one occasion to instill in her the belief that her life was not her own.
Aminata’s hardships did not end when she was sold to another white man, or even when she escaped, found her husband, and had her second child. She found work in the home pf the Witherspoons, who fell in love with Aminata’s daughter, May. When the rebellions started and it was too dangerous for the mother and daughter to go home, they stayed with the Witherspoons until things calmed down. As soon as the fighting was over, Aminata left May with the Witherspoons for two days to go help rebuild the homes that were destroyed. When she came back, however, she discovered that the Witherspoons had left with her daughter and she had no way to get May back. She screamed and cried, “Where is my daughter?” (Hill 346) but nothing could bring her daughter back. Because the Witherspoons were white, they felt like they were better than Aminata and had more rights than her. They probably didn’t see much wrong in taking away a mother’s child to satisfy their own wants. Once again, whites cared only for themselves and failed to think of negroes as people with feelings and emotions.
This pattern continues over and over throughout the entire novel; the pride of white people makes them feel entitled to do whatever they please with the Africans and the negroes end up suffering greatly because of it. They are constantly oppressed and if they ever endeavour to forget, they are swiftly reminded that, according to the whites, their lives are not their own.
Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.