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The Economic System Of Slavery: As Told In A Respectable Trade And Amistad

1922 words - 8 pages

The Economic System of Slavery: As Told in A Respectable Trade and Amistad

The economic system of slavery is an all-encompassing system that effects the mentalities of all who participate in the system. People in a slave society are shaped differently than people influenced by other economic systems, as this system classifies people as property, inherently going against all aspects of human nature. We see how slavery has come to shape individuals, and indeed, entire societies both in Amistad and A Respectable Trade. In these films arise the themes of economic value of different systems of slavery as well as themes of the morality of the slave trade and the devaluation of human dignity and liberty. While the two films portray vastly different contexts in which slavery exists, they have in common the struggles between profitable economic systems of the times and the social evaluations of these economic institutions.

In a slave society, there exists a control over productive resources by a specific subset of society. That is to say, the wealth of the economy is largely concentrated in the hands of a few. In a slave system, control over productive resources specifically means control over people, as it is the slaves in this economic system who are the resources, or whose labor is responsible for producing the resources. In the film Amistad, the production done by slaves is clearly delineated by the work they do on the plantations, as we do not see slave labor in the domestic realm as a prominent feature of this society. The Africans captured by their fellow countrymen are defined as property, as chattel, as soon as they set foot on the slave-trading vessels. Thus, within the system of slavery we see that human beings are regarded as chattel, that is to say, just another resource. Classifying them as people is inherently against the standards of the system, and in fact, would spell ruin for the organization and the hierarchy of the economic system if this were to change. In the film A Respectable Trade, we see that the slaves are not regarded as people, but as commodities. Once the slaves are forced upon Jesiah's prized ship, they are his property, and thus, he and his "henchmen" have license to treat them as they please. While in Amistad the slaves could be more easily defined as resources due to the type of labor they were captured to perform, the slaves as resources is a more difficult definition to make in the film A Respectable Trade. The repoduction done by slaves in the domestic sphere is not as closely linked to the means of acquiring wealth as it would be in a plantaion setting. On a plantation, the wealth acquired by the master is inextricably linked to the work done by the slaves in the field. Without their forced labor, the master would not show a profit, as he would have no product to sell to the public. The domestic work done by the slaves in A Respectable Trade is hardly how Jesiah's wealth is to be...

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