Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Takaki, Chapter 3: The "Giddy Multitude"

Takaki’s thesis in this chapter is “In 1611, when Shakespeare’s play was first performed, there were no African Calibans in Virginia. Indeed, the introduction of Africans was something that had not even been considered at the time. As it turned out, the presence of Africans in America did become a reality” (p.52). This statement is saying that Caliban from The Tempest closely reflects what happens in America, and the arrival of Africans as becoming the oppressed slaves within the country.

This chapter in Takaki’s book deeply describes that the representation of Caliban could very well be coincidentally linked with the representation of the Africans within America. The English view the Africans as a vile race, and people who would come off as brutish. Also, the English believed that they were all cannibals, and were “a people of beastly living, without a God, law, religion. Their color allegedly made them Devils incarnate” (p.52). Basically all of the degrading traits that a “monster” would have, Caliban had, and in retrospect, the Africans represented as well. The Africans, like Caliban, were also branded with the words “savage” and “deformed slave”. Though not all of the slave labor in the new settlement was black, but there were also English whites who were forced to enslavement as well. The whites who were gathered to be slaves in America were known as “surplus inhabitants” of England. Within this titled included convicts, “rogues, vagabonds, whores, cheats, and rabble of all descriptions, raked from the gutter, decoyed, deceived, seduced, inveigled, or forcibly kidnapped and carried as servants to the plantations” (p.54). Even though these English slaves were white, they were still shoved in the same class that the black Africans were: slave laborers, whose status dropped to them becoming treated as property. The white slaves typically got a lesser penalty than the black slaves whenever they tried to run away, even though both still receive pretty harsh punishments. Usually black slaves were forced into life of enslavement, while whites typically only had to work a few more extra years for the colony and the slave’s master. Another part of the play that became apparent in the new settlement was the combined rebellion force of the black and white slaves, known as “The Giddy Multitude”. This rebellion was defined as “a discontented class of indentured servants, slaves, and landless freemen, both white and black, the Stephanos and Trinculos as well as the Calibans of Virginia” (p.63). All of them ended up grabbing a hold of armory in order to stand their ground. Unfortunately, the rebellion did not last as long as the members have hoped. By force and deceit, “the rebels of the “giddy multitude” had been defeated, but they had fought in what historian Edmund Morgan called “the largest rebellion known in any American colony before the American Revolution”” (p.65). After this revolt was put down, the white slaves were lifted of their punishments, but the black slaves did not receive this luxury. By this time the government system decided that black slaves were the best way to go for slave labor, and their plan was to deliberately pit the white and black slaves against each other (p.67). In the end, Jefferson abolished slavery because of the chaos it caused within the population. Though even though the blacks were now freed, they were still treated quite differently, so much as they would have to be removed from American society (p.70).

Takaki’s argument in this chapter would be that Caliban once again had foreseen all of these events regarding race differences, slaves and oppression within the new settlement. With all the given evidence and links from both this chapter and the previous chapter, I would have to agree with his argument. In Shakespeare’s play, Caliban was seen as the monster out of the society, someone different from everyone else, someone who looked and seemed to act like any other brutish figure would, and lastly, someone that could be forced into slavery and be made to obey a master’s command. Just because Caliban was different than the rest, he was seen as a threat that needed to be controlled. If the name “Caliban” was removed from all of the above statements, and replaced with “Africans”, or even “Native Americans”, would still be accurate to how those groups of people were viewed in the American society during that time period.

Overall, I thought the chapter was a pretty decent read. I was not aware of the Giddy Multitude during this time period, and I found the combined rebellion of both the blacks and the whites very interesting. I also thought that how differently the white slaves and the black slaves were punished, even though they did the exact same crime and were supposedly viewed as “equal slave laborers” was quite appalling, even though I have read about events similar to this before. I still think the other articles we read in class are more attention keeping than Takaki’s chapters though, but otherwise it was a good read, and very informative about continuing the story of Caliban, and the relation to slavery and oppression within America during that time period.

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