Friday, October 8, 2010

Harriet Wilson's Our Nig

"Only the BLACK WOMAN can say "when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing for special patronage, then and there, the whole Negro race enters with me."--Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South, 1892

1861 photo of girls in the school yard of the Colored Orphan Asylum, located at 5th Ave. & 43rd St. in New York City. 

As I mentioned in class, Wilson's autobiographical novel melds the two most popular literary genres of the 19th century: the slave narrative and the sentimental novel. 

I would like you to consider how this novel fits in with the other works we have read this semester, or other works you may have read outside of this class (written during the same era), and to think about the following questions:

  • How does this novel compare with other works--what are the similarities, and what are the differences? 
  • What is significant about the prefatory note that precedes the beginning of the story? 
  • What major themes emerge in this novel? 
  • What is Harriet Wilson's motive for writing Our Nig that sets her apart from her (white women) contemporaries?
  • How do you "read" race, gender, and class in Our Nig?
I would like you to think about these questions as you read. Please read up to Chapter Seven (7), and make some notes on passages of significance to you!
All best,
Prof. Williams


  1. An opinion for question 1: Comparing Harriet Wilson and Frances Harper both as writers and their work: They were both free from slavery and both regarded as first women to publish short stories which I find powerful and eye-opening for humans but mostly for women. In the story Our Nig, Frado is a victim of prejudice, she goes through brutal hardships at a very young age under a white woman (Mrs. Bellmont). On the other hand, Harper is challenging women, both blacks and whites that yes there's been racism issues and blacks have been held down for ages but that doesn't mean giving up or running away from responsibilities like Mag did in Our Nig. Harper mentions that " My husband had did suddenly, leaving me a widow, with four children, one my own, and others stepchildren". Though she was left alone with what she couldn't handle on her own, she didn't give up, she stood and fought for what she thought it was beneficial not only for her but other blacks. To put it differently, both blacks and whites were suffering in a way. Not all whites were rich and Harper's aim was to make them aware that they are all human, regardless of thier skin color. they should have the same rights, be treated equally. White as a color shouldn't be treated as pure or special,same applies to black, it should be treated as dirt or evil. It is all women responsibility to right all the racism issue wrongs

  2. Excellent commentary, Agnes!

    Prof. Williams