Book Review: Celia, A Slave

“Celia, a Slave”

In his novel, “Celia, a Slave,” Melton McLaurin depicts a commonplace story of the unjust “peculiar institution” of slavery through his expert utilization of syntax, rhetoric, and ardor. The novel is set in the middle of the 17th century and revolves around a trial which took place in 1855. In the time period leading up to the Civil War of the US, anti-slavery sentiment, especially in the southern region, was exponentially growing. The chronological order of the events depicted in the story demonstrates the progression of abuse that slaves in the soon-to-be Confederacy had to experience. The book was organized well, and the sequence of events was well understood. The only complaint is that there is not much known about Celia. Although there is a small number of flashbacks present, not much is known about her story before the book starts. It would be nice to see who Celia was before she was bought by Robert Newsom, however, perhaps the exclusion of these facts was intentional, as to allude to the fact that the backstory of a slave was often unconsidered and unappreciated in this time period. 

Melton McLaurin is an author who has written a couple of different books about slavery and segregation in the south. Based on the story itself, there is not much of a bias present. However, the fact that McLaurin chose to tell the story of a slave, rather than a white master, shows that McLaurin may have a more liberal or antislavery viewpoint. As a history professor who also has a doctorate degree, it is quite apparent that McLaren is well acquainted with the institution of slavery and its practices. 

While most slavery books depict the brutality of all slaves, it is important to note that Melton McLaurin chose to depict the situation of a black woman specifically. As opposed to some other states, the slave laws in Missouri dictated that a slave may use self-defense if their life was in danger. This law, however, did not extend to sexual abuse, like the abuse Celia experienced. The ongoing themes of sexual exploitation, as well as reform and resistance, control the story from a unique perspective. 

Celia, a slave contributed significantly to the argument that the struggle of black women in the South was unique to those of slaves in general. The novel delivered on its promise, because it connected to the reader with personal experience, whilst simultaneously showing historical accuracy.


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