Plot summary[ edit ] Dred is the story of Nina Gordon, an impetuous young heiress to a large southern plantation , whose land is rapidly becoming worthless. Nina is a flighty young girl, and maintains several suitors, before finally settling down with a man named Clayton. Clayton is socially and religiously liberal, and very idealistic, and has a down-to-earth perpetual-virgin sister, Anne. There is also a family of poor whites, who have but a single, devoted slave, Old Tiff.
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In Two Volumes. The title character is an escaped slave and religious zealot who aids fellow slave refugees and spends most of the novel plotting a slave rebellion. He is a composite of Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, two real leaders of slave insurrections.
On the other hand, Stowe imbues Dred with many of the prevailing racial stereotypes of African American men as savages. As Stowe describes him: "The large eyes had that peculiar and solemn effect of unfathomable blackness and darkness which is often a striking characteristic of the African eye.
But there burned in them, like tongues of flame in a black pool of naphtha, a subtle and restless fire, that betokened habitual excitement to the verge of insanity" p. Dred, however, is only a peripheral character in the novel. Instead, most of the plot is centered on white and mixed race, or mulatto, characters and the way the Southern legal system supported slavery. The Kansas territory had also erupted into civil war over the extension of slavery. Then, in , a group of antislavery guerillas, under the leadership of John Brown, murdered several proslavery men.
The major characters in the legal drama and star-crossed romance come from two slave-owning families, the Gordons and the Claytons. The two most sympathetic members of the Gordon family of Canema plantation are Nina and her mulatto half-brother, Harry, who is the son of their father, Colonel Gordon, and his slave mistress.
Colonel Gordon and his son Tom, are cruel-hearted masters who also wield great political power. Nina Gordon is in love with Edward Clayton, a lawyer and planter who secretly hopes for an end to slavery and treats his slaves kindly in the mean time. Both of the lawsuits are based on actual state court decisions, as Stowe records in her second appendix. The first legal challenge is set in motion when Nina hires out Milly, her personal slave, to Mr.
Baker in order to raise money for the ailing Canema plantation. Milly is the opposite of Dred. She embodies the loyalty of slaves and the femininity and Christian grace of women. When Baker, in a drunken rage, tries to punish a slave for a small offense, Milly intervenes. Baker hits Milly, then shoots her when she tries to escape the punishment. Nina is outraged and retains Edward to sue Baker.
The suit was based on state law, which allowed slave-owners to seek recompense for damage to their personal property. Edward jumps at the chance to both please Nina and strike a blow against the abuse of slaves. Edward wins the case, but loses when Baker appeals to the state Supreme Court.
Mann, in In a fashion typical of sentimental Victorian fiction, Stowe has her hero resign from the practice of law, and Nina, too pure to live in a sinful world, dies of cholera. The second lawsuit in the novel involves Cora, the slave sister of the mulatto Harry Gordon.
Stewart, takes Cora with her to Louisiana there. Cora is emancipated after she marries Mrs. When George dies, the former slave Cora inherits his plantation. But Mr. Jekyl, an evil lawyer, uses the law to rob Cora of her property and return her to slavery. In the meantime, Edward Clayton and his sister, Anne, have become devoted to the uplift, if not the emancipation, of their slaves.
Edward and Anne begin to tutor their slaves, but an angry white mob sabotages the effort. The siblings soon leave North Carolina for Canada. Stowe seems to use Harry to represent the divided mind of Southern slaves.
On one extreme is Milly, a loyal slave, who counsels love for the master and patient endurance of earthly tribulation for the reward of eternal freedom in heaven. On the other extreme is Dred, the leader of a potential slave insurrection. Just as they are preparing to assault the white community, however, Milly appears in the swamp, singing a gospel tune. Instead, he leads his band of refugees out of the swamp and north to freedom.
Like its predecessor, Dred was aimed primarily at Northern white readers in an effort to convince them of the humanity of slaves and the ways in which slavery corrupted white Southerners. By contrast, in Dred, Stowe indicts the entire system of Southern slave statutes. Stowe argues that enshrining slavery in law did not prevent abuses. Rather, it released the passions of slave-owners from personal control and gave social sanction to the horrors of slavery. In addition, Stowe uses the swamp setting of Dred to represent the indolence and stagnation of Southern civilization and morality caused by slavery.
Aside from its symbolic value, the Great Dismal Swamp was also where runaway slaves from nearby plantations in North Carolina and Virginia actually did hide out. Some of them even plotted rebellions. To answer those charges, Stowe followed up the first novel with a "Key" documenting her sources. For Dred, Stowe included appendices of citations with the novel to prove the plot was based on real events.
For more on the pro and anti-slavery sentiment in North Carolina, see those subsections of the list of slavery topics. Kevin Cherry.
Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp
OUR readers will perhaps feel an interest to turn back with us, and follow the singular wanderings of the mysterious personage, whose wild denunciations had so disturbed the minds of the worshippers at the camp-meeting. There is a twilight-ground between the boundaries of the sane and insane, which the old Greeks and Romans regarded with a peculiar veneration. They held a person whose faculties were thus darkened as walking under the awful shadow of a supernatural presence; and, as the mysterious secrets of the stars only become visible in the night, so in these eclipses of the more material faculties they held there was often an awakening of supernatural perceptions. The hot and positive light of our modern materialism, which exhales from the growth of our existence every dewdrop, which searches out and dries every rivulet of romance, which sends an unsparing beam into every cool grotto of poetic possibility, withering the moss, and turning the dropping cave to a dusty den -- this spirit, so remorseless, allows us no such indefinite land.
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