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The Body of PropertyAntebellum American Fiction and the Phenomenology of Possession$
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Chad Luck

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780823263004

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823263004.001.0001

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Anxieties of Ownership:

Anxieties of Ownership:

Debt, Entitlement, and the Plantation Romance

(p.138) 3 / Anxieties of Ownership
The Body of Property

Chad Luck

Fordham University Press

This chapter examines the exploitative property relationship of master and slave as it is depicted in the pro-slavery novels of William Gilmore Simms and in the popular slave narratives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Charles Ball. By contrasting these genres, the chapter reveals a dialectical phenomenology of debt and entitlement underlying the master-slave relation. More specifically, the chapter suggests that slaveholders are plagued by a persistent anxiety of ownership, an unconscious fear that they owe rather than own their slaves. Slaves, on the other hand, experience a feeling of outraged entitlement as a result of their exploitation at the hands of slaveholders. This tension between feelings of debt and feelings of entitlement also structures the space of the plantation itself. The chapter ends with a reading of John Pendleton Kennedy’s Swallow Barn which effectively demonstrates how the owner’s spatial mastery of the plantation is persistently challenged by the slaves’ bodily appropriation of various counter-spaces.

Keywords:   William Gilmore Simms, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Charles Ball, John Pendleton Kennedy, slave narrative, debt, phenomenology, property, plantation

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