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Exploration Of Bondage In Middle Passage

1154 words - 5 pages

Bondage can be defined as a state of subjection to a force, power, or influence or the state of being under the control of another person. Throughout the novel Middle Passage, written by Charles Johnson, bondage is a reoccurring theme. The characters in the novel are bonded physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Some characters are bonded and can not escape their bondage. Others choose to place themselves in the situations. Throughout the course of the novel, some of the characters gain their freedom and move forward with their lives. Other characters are never able to gain their freedom because their lives end in death.
     Within the first page of the book we are introduced to Rutherford Calhoun, an ex-slave. He has been recently freed and has chosen to settle down in New Orleans. According to Rutherford, “New Orleans wasn’t just home. It was heaven”(2). Rutherford is in search of living the life of what he envisions as a free man: happy and self-directed. However, Rutherford finds himself bonded to new things. As scholar Barbara Z. Thaden asserts, “Rutherford discovers that his freedom is only a different type of slavery” (254). Thaden also notes, Rutherford leads “a life of petty crime, drinking, womanizing, and running from commitment of any kind” (254). He becomes bonded to gambling, stealing, and debt. As scholar Ashraf H.A. Rushdy argues, “gaining his freedom has only trapped him further into the futile struggle to preserve and promote his individuality” (375).
     In New Orleans, Rutherford becomes a petty thief. He says that he “looked for honest work” but “found nothing” so he stole (3). Rutherford also says that stealing was “a way to shake off stress and occupy his hands” (103). As scholar Ashraf H.A. Rushdy notes, “stealing, for Rutherford, is more than an occupation: it is a philosophy”(376). As a child, Reverend Peleg Chandler “[noticed] the stickiness of his fingers”(3). In order to gain access aboard the Republic, Rutherford steals Josiah Squibb’s paper and continues his habit of stealing throughout the voyage.
     Rutherford also becomes bonded to gambling and as a result, ends up in debt. Rutherford would play card games “that lasted three days and nights”(7). Because he lost most of the card games he played and used what money he had to play card games, he owed “several people withing a mile circumference of the city- [his] landlady Mrs. Dupree; Mr. Fenton the moneylender; and the vendors too”(12).
     Rutherford faces the enslavement of marriage before and after getting onboard the Republic. He is on the ship because he doesn’t want to marry Isadora. By marrying Isadora, he could have freed himself from the bondage of debt. However, once he boards the ship and becomes a crew member, he is faced with the enslavement of marriage once more. Falcon considers Rutherford his spy and gives him a special gun. This gun...

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