Comparisons to the United States in Middle Passage
Middle Passage by Charles Johnson follows Rutherford Calhoun as he attempts to flee his debt or face marriage. He stows away on a slave ship called the Republic. Along the way, a slave mutiny happens and the ship is seized only to later be destroyed in a storm. By the end, he discovers incriminating evidence against his creditor and ultimately marries the girl. Throughout the book, there are allusions and comparisons to the United States. The Republic is a metaphor for the condition of the United States in the years leading up to and during the Civil War, in its constant need for repair, and shows the inevitable deterioration of the nation as it stands.
The condition of the Republic and the United States leading up to Civil War are very similar. While being shown the orlop Calhoun remarks, “...the Republic was physically unstable. She was perpetually flying apart and re-forming during the voyage, falling to pieces beneath us, the great sails ripping to rags in high winds, the rot, cracks, and parasites in old wood so cancerously swift, springing up where least expected, ” (Johnson 36). The Republic was in terrible condition, and it was a dying ship. The “parasites” could be the institution of slavery that helped lead to the Civil War. Although the nation began with slaves overtime abolitionists gained significant ground. Slavery was never meant to last. It went from the greatest power of the South to the parasite that would divide the nation. It created conflict between the northern abolitionists and the southern slave owners. This would prove to be a leading factor in the war beginning with the succession of South Carolina in 1860. During a slave mutiny Johnson describes the ship writing, “...the Republic must have run onto half-hidden rocks, or struck an isle, or the father of all waves fell upon us, for the walls buckled from a tremendous, rolling crash and rumbling that smashed the beams of the ceiling and threw us to the floor.” (127). During the mutiny, the Republic is being destroyed like the United States in the Civil War. After the mutiny, there were few crew left to man the ship. This is like the destruction of southern railroads. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march near the end of the war cut off this main method of transporting goods effectively crippling the South. The Republic’s deteriorated condition compares to the United States with events leading to the war and Sherman’s march.
Like the Republic, the United States is constantly being repaired and destroyed. Johnson describes the duties of the crew as Calhoun learns the ship writing, “...that Captain Falcon’s crew spent most of their time literally rebuilding the Republic as we crawled along the waves.” (36). The Republic was constantly being repaired like attempts to repair the North-South divide. It followed a pattern of compromise and conflict. Leading up to the Civil War there were many laws and events...