The book “Celia, A Slave”, written by Melton A. McLaurin is a true story of an African-American woman, who was trialed and executed for the murder of her owner Robert Newsom, who abused and molested her. Nevertheless, the author focuses not only on the main character but also on the life of female slaves and the cruel and merciless way in which they were treated.
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The author is renowned for her ability to incorporate history with literature. Although, her book is mostly based on the official records, the reader is able to get insights into the inner world of the main character. Melton tries to give a full account of Celias life by means of correspondence, newspaper accounts and court records. To a certain degree, it is quite possible for us to say that that Celia’s trial caused a heated debate in the American society about labor, slavery, and probably the countrys future policy.
It goes without saying that Celias case was not the only one and there were many other African- American slaves, who were sentenced to death (sometimes without trial) just because they tried to put some resistance to the constant oppression, however, it is Celia’s that was made public, and created such deep resonance in the then American society.
Perhaps, it would be advisable to describe the trial itself and the events that preceded it. First, it is worth mentioning that the protagonist was purchased as a commodity by Robert Newsom, who “seemed the ideal representative of the family farmers who in 1850 composed the majority of the citizens of Callaway County, Missouri” (Melton, p. 13).
In these lines, the author tries to emphasize the idea that this person was a respected member of the community and he seemed to be a man of honor in the eyes of the public. It will not be a far-fetched conclusion to say that since the very beginning people were prejudiced against Celia, not just because she were a slave but also because her owner Robert Newsom was believed to be a respectable man who could not such atrocities under no circumstances.
Celia was bought by Robert Newsom when she was fourteen, and since that time she had always been subjected to the sexual abuse and beating. However, everything has its limits and Celias endurance is not an exception. She could no longer stand it and tried to fight back; this resulted in Robert Newsom death. It stands to reason, that afterwards she was trialed and sentenced to death. The peculiar feature of Celias trial is that she was not even given a chance speak in her defense (Melton, p. 96).
Although, according the then legislation, any woman had right for self-protection, but apparently, this rule could not be applied to Celia, because she was a slave woman and her race and social class did not allow her to have any rights in the American court.
Thus, we may arrive at the conclusion that this woman was entirely deprived of her right for dignity. According to the court decision it was her duty to yield to her owners demand mainly due to the fact that she was his property.
This trial was held in 1855; at first glance, it may seem an event of no consequence, which would have no effect on the future of the United State, because the overwhelming majority of slave population were completely deprived of their rights and were mostly treated as a commodity. However, it was Celia, who dared protest. Overall, we can say that her trial represented the whole immorality and inhumanity of slavery as a social phenomenon.
It should be mentioned that in the time when Celia was trialed, American society began to understand that slavery could only have detrimental effects on the country. This issue was discussed on various levels, such as moral, economical, political, and cultural. Forward-thinkers believed that slavery was the vestige of the past, which had to be eradicated. Celias trial and execution only confirmed this belief. Overall, her case represents the heated debate held in America in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Primarily, American writers and philosophers tried to prove that slavery was gradually ruining American society because it divided it in two parts slave and slave-owners. They believed that a human being irrespective of his race could not be treated as a commodity. Celias example was the best proof of this statement. She proved that a person should not be viewed as a thing, which could be used in every possible way. The only possible outcome of such behavior is violence or a viscous circle that will be very difficult to break.
Secondly, slavery was discussed from religious point of view. It is worth mentioning that the vast majority of slave-owners were “good” Christians even Robert Newsom was a very honorable man. Those people, who opposed to slavery, emphasized the fact that it violates the basic Christian principle,”Love thy neighbor as thyself”. Probably, according to slave-owners this rule could not be applied to slaves. Celias protest only proved that people who justified the idea of slavery were hypocrites.
Moreover, this case showed that slavery is imprudent. It sounds unusual to say the least. However, if we take a closer look at the history of humankind we may see, we may see that a human being has always resented yoke or any kind of bondage and that sooner or later the slave will inevitably attack his owner. Celia was the brightest example of such behavior. She proved that a person should not be subdued by means of whip and carrot. Her case proved that slavery could be very dangerous to the owner. People, who possessed the instinct of self-preservation, realized that they should change their attitude towards slaves, if they did not want to share Robert Newsoms fate.
If we analyzed the judicial side of the issue, we may say for sure that the defendant had every right to protect herself, and her behavior was legal. However, the court thought otherwise. According to the existing legislation, she had no right to defend her dignity, because she was a slave. Again, it just proved the absurdity of slavery.
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Thus, having analyzed the novel “Celia, a Slave. A True Story”, we may arrive at the conclusion that this seemingly insignificant event reflected many social issues in the American society in the middle of the nineteenth century. In fact, it only proved that such phenomenon as slavery had to be eradicated. Celias case showed that the slavery may eventually result in a terrible disaster such as the Civil War.
Melton A McLaurin. “Celia, a Slave: A True Story”. Tandem Library Books, 1999