In search of freedom before and after slavery.
This tale makes very clear the cruel and barbaric nature of slavery. Told in flashback we know our protagonist is now a Freeman. He relates the following:
“I was wielding a hoe at the age of two, and weeding, and collecting fodder for the cows, and scooping manure into cane holes with my hands. In my ninth year I was gifted a straw hat and a shovel that I could scarcely lift, and I had felt proud to be counted a man.”
Our man-child also did not know his origin. Different stories were told. This will get sorted out by journey’s end. His name was given by his new master. Christened Washington Black as a term of ridicule. The master, Erasmus Wilde, had thoughts of ‘a warrior-president and a land of sweetness and freedom.’ Washington’s face was also burned badly. Home is a sugar cane plantation called Faith on Barbados in the West Indies. This slave name is shortened to Wash by his friends.
Big Kit, a witch woman, is described as fierce and large in size casts spells to punish and protect. She keeps Wash safe. You see the new master begun his reign by hiring a squad of rough men and maiming every slave, even young children, to enact a code of understanding—no one will escape his wrath. That is until his brother Christopher, an inventor and their father’s favorite son arrives. He will liberate Wash by choosing him to be his assistant with experiments.
This book prefaces our hero’s journey in slavery because he will face uncertain situations with grace and a never say die spirit bourne of this struggle. Slavery takes away your origin story; Your master owns your life and death. When Wash meets Christopher, Titch as he is known for the rest of the story, he will bring a nail to impale if his new master attempts any violence.
For the slave is always on guard for a master’s punishment. Titch sets him at ease and gives him a comfortable place to sleep and work. From now on he will be a house slave. Eventually becoming an illustrator of new specimens for Titch’s scientific journal. We learn that Titch is an abolitionist sent to his brother’s plantation to catalog the sins of slavery. And this is where the adventure literally takes flight. Titch is secretly building a ‘Cloud-Cutter’. A contraption in which he and Wash will escape faith for science; slavery for freedom.
The rest of the novel concerns itself with the nature of being a fugitive slave. Wash and Titch meet people and have great times. The writing is never less than exceptional throughout. People close to Wash will vanish, sometimes die. Young Wash will never seek revenge for the crimes committed against him. He is a reminder that his station does not dictate that he become a savage master. On the contrary, he will become a man. A stark reminder is also imbued that he will never be seen as human in his lifetime. Easy answers are not forthcoming. Ending slavery was just a prelude for the violence to follow. In an age where any slight, perceived or otherwise could lead a man to the gallows.
If you want to become better rounded regarding the nation’s original sin look no further. For adventure and redemption await all who open the pages of this extraordinary book.