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Quotes

Quote #1

I never looked at any strange negro. They hated us. They called us white cockroaches. Let sleeping dogs lie. One day a little girl followed me singing, "Go away white cockroach, go away, go away." (I.1.3.2)

Here Antoinette describes the hostility she encountered from blacks after the Emancipation Act was passed. With the death of her father, the former slave owner Mr. Cosway, her family is not only ruined, but exposed to the open threats and abuse of the area's black community, as the little girl's use of the term "white cockroach" indicates.

Quote #2

Then Tia would light a fire (fires always lit for her, sharp stones did not hurt her bare feet, I never saw her cry). (I.1.3.3)

Ironically, the same taunting girl in Quote #1 above is Tia, who becomes Antoinette's only friend. Antoinette strongly identifies with Tia because both are in racial groupings that are considered inferior to the dominant white, European colonial class. But this identification has a flip side: Tia is depicted here as having a closer connection to the natural world that Antoinette thinks of as a haven. Tia's close connection to the natural world is actually playing on a racial stereotype that views blacks as being primitive, as closer to nature than to civilized man.

Quote #3

"They invent stories about you, and lies about me. They try to find out what we eat every day."

"They are curious. It's natural enough. You have lived alone far too long, Annette. You imagine enmity which doesn't exist. Always one extreme or the other. Didn't you fly at me like a little wild cat when I said nigger. Not nigger, nor even negro. Black people I must say."

"You don't like, or even recognize the good in them," she said, "and you won't believe in the other side."

"They're too damn lazy to be dangerous," said Mr. Mason. "I know that."

"They are more alive than you are, lazy or not, and they can be dangerous and cruel for reasons you wouldn't understand." (I.1.6.9-12)

In this tiff, it appears that Annette and Mr. Mason are just throwing around some racial stereotypes. Annette thinks blacks are malicious, and Mr. Mason believes them to be lazy. Or you could read it another way. Annette could be disputing Mr. Mason's condescending belief that blacks are "lazy," incapable of action. Instead of this one-sided view, Annette is trying to get Mr. Mason to see that blacks are actual human beings, psychologically complex and fully capable of acting on their own desires.

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