Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 4. The Negro in Earlier American Literature

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

V. Dialect Writers

§ 4. The Negro in Earlier American Literature

The chief writers who preceded Harris in the attempt to portray negro character were William Gilmore Simms, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Stephen Collins Foster, and Irwin Russell. Hector, the negro slave in Simms’s Yemassee (1835), and Jupiter in Poe’s Gold-Bug (1843) are alike in many respects. Both belong to the type of faithful body servant, both are natives of the coastal region of South Carolina, both illustrate a primitive sort of humour, and both speak an anglicized form of Gullah (Gulla) dialect. Of the two, Hector is the better portrayed. His refusal (in Chapter 51) to accept freedom when it is offered to him by his owner is by no means surprising; it is an evidence rather of Simms’s familiarity with negro character and a reminder of the anomalous position in which a freedman in those days found himself. Neither Hector nor Jupiter, however, can be said to have any individuality of his own. They are mere types, not individuals. Apart from their masters they have no separate existence at all.