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Samantha on the Race Problem

Updated: Mar 20, 2022


Josiah Allen's Wife (Marietta Holley)

1892

Dodd, Mead & Company


Fiction


387 thick pages, a good bedtime read for the month of October.


Overview

An entertaining story to explain the situation between Black African Americans and Southern White Americans 25 years after emancipation, and to offer a solution. It is a painful reminder of what was endured by the Southern Black People.


Summary

Set around 1890, Samantha and her husband live a rural and simple life on a small farm in the Northeast. Their son and grandson become ill, and so they take a trip to his residence in Georgia to help out while they are recovering. Samantha is very observant of both the Black and the Southern White cultures, and as she gets to know the people of the community, she begins to understand the hardships and injustices suffered by the black people.

Genieve, a young woman of mixed race, is employed as the nanny for the son’s two children. Genieve has a fiancé, Victor, who is promoting his plan to take the colored people of the South to the upper Congo Basin in Africa to colonize their own country. Eventually, Victor raises enough volunteers and money to make the voyage and initial settlement in the new country. On the eve of the departure, tragedy strikes at the hands of his white boss who is resentful and humiliated that Victor is leaving his employment to make a better life for himself.


Review

The story puts forth this main idea: That it is impossible for southern whites and blacks to live harmoniously; that the generations of master/slave culture and mentality cannot be overcome. The ‘race problem’, which the author presents very fairly and objectively, is best solved by the black people going back to Africa to colonize their own county. Details of this plan are drawn out that make it seem realistic and probable.


Many incidences of injustice are recounted to illustrate the abuse inflicted upon the black people. On several occasions the author proposes that it was cruel to throw slaves suddenly into society as equal to whites, however no alternative solution to ending slavery is offered.


The author points out that the southern whites were not only arrogant and deeply prejudiced against negros, but also disappointed, humiliated and resentful in their defeat by the Union Army, increasing their vengeance and violence. The author has a good understanding of human nature, and explains why people behave a certain way, not as an excuse, but as an understanding of the way things are. She is objective, fair and balanced in her assessment of the black culture and the southern white culture and does not come across as condescending or self-righteous.


The story is sprinkled with humor and includes many details of daily life to make it interesting and give the reading a nice flow.



The dialect

of the main character, who narrates the story, is distinct and well-written. It serves to portray Samantha - and therefore her ideas - as down-to-earth, simple, and humble. It is at first confusing, but once you become familiar with the words, it smooths out. Samantha is the main character in a series of novels, so many readers would already be familiar with her way of speaking.


A sample of her vocabulary:

Creeter - critter

Episodin’ – excessive talking, rambling

Anon – soon or often

Hisen – his

Mejum – middle ground or calm

Spozed – supposed

Gin – give

Mebby – maybe

Imegiatly – immediately

Sot – sat

Skairt – scared

Hearn – heard

Kinder - kind of


Minor Subthemes:

Women’s rights, Children’s rights and Voting rights.


Best Line

A neighbor came to borrow and old coat to wear to a funeral instead of his nice one: "...the fact is, you know the corpse and I never agreed with each other, and everybody knows it; and I don't want to act as if I wuz a mournin' too much. I hate deceit."


Honorable Mentions

"And for family reasons I ever preferred that he should ventilate his views in my indulgent ear before he let 'em loose onto society."


"I loved her and she loved me; and when you have said that you have said a good deal; you have said about all there is to say."


"-the inbred feelin's of slavery, of lookin' up with a blended humility and hatred, admiration and envy, into the face of the dominate race."


"Not that she ever give utterance to any remark of national importance..."


"...the tender counsels and broodin' love of a mother."


"calm as cream"


"That hain't a over and above good metafor; but I'll let it go, bein' I am in some of a hurry."


"She said she heard voices talkin' to her...and I don't know but she did - I don't feel like disputin' it either way; besides, I wuzn't there."


"...and (both) bein' full of shiftless, no account qualities, and bein' married, what could they...be expected to do, but bring into the world a lot of still shiftless, no accounter creeters?"


To break your heart:

"My missy wuz good to me, as good as she could be to a slave. But all my chillen, one aftah anoder, wuz stole away from me. Aftah havin' fo'teen chillen, lubbin' ebery one ob 'em, like I would die ef dey wuz tuck away from me - aftah holdin' dem fo'teen clost to my heart, so dey couldn't be tuck nohow, I foun' my ole ahms empty. I wuz kep' jes' to raise chillen for de mahket, dat wuz my business. An' when I gin dem chillen my heart's lub, dat wuz goin' beyent my business."


To the author’s credit:

The description of the black people and the white people of the South is fair, balanced and unpretentious. She is not morally superior, but rather factual and practical. She explains, not as an excuse, but as an understanding, why people behave as they do.


To the author’s discredit:

The book is heavy on preaching and philosophizing - ‘episodin’ as the main character calls it when she goes off on long speeches about one subject or another. There are metaphors upon analogies upon religious references that take up a lot of pages.


About the Author

Marietta Holley was a popular and successful author in her day. She published a series of novels under the pen name 'Josiah Allen's Wife', in irony, to bring attention to women's rights.



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