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Interpolating Harriet Tubman: Representation of Gender and Heroism in David Bradley's The Chaneysville IncidentMaha Marouan

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[1] David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident (Edinburgh: Payback Press, 1991) [1981], p 198.

[2] It seems that there is more than one version of what happened to the runaway slaves, and about whether they were killed and buried or whether they were protected. Charles Blockson, Bradley's uncle, in The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania uses a version that is based on a version by Mrs. Harriet Bradley, (Bradley's mother) which states that the runaway slaves were protected rather than killed. He reports: "The friends of the escaping blacks concealed and protected them from their pursuers and prevented the return of the fleeing blacks to bondage." See Charles Blockson, The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania (North Carolina: Flame International, 1981), 141. However, George L. Henderson in his article "South of the North, North of the South: Spatial Practices in David Bradley's The Chaneysville Incident" writes that in the official history of Bedford County the slaves begged to be killed rather than returned to slavery, which corresponds with the version in The Chaneysville Incident. For more details see Henderson's article, Keep your Head to the Sky: Interpreting African American Home Ground, ed. by Grey Gundaker (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), 142-143. Bradley's choice of the official version is political and expresses his attempt to rewrite black heroism into history and subvert the stereotype associated with the slaves as passive by highlighting their resistance to slavery. These contrasting accounts in the history of slavery also show that fictionalization in a way becomes as accurate as historical evidence.

[3] W. Lawrence Hogue maintains that "In asking Jack Crawley to teach his son how to be a 'natural' man, Moses Washington is taking the necessary action to continue the universalization, or transcendence, of his particular definition of manhood," 445.

[4] Blake & Miller, p. 22.

[5] For more details about the negative construction of women see "Problematizing History" where Hogue argues that women are seen as breeders. He argues that the text "shows unconsciously that John, like C.K. and Moses, sees women as objects," p. 453.

[6] Blake & Miller, p. 29.

[7] It is important to note that the ritual of burning takes place outside Old Jack's cabin, when the natural setting for John's possible suicide would have been Chaneysville's graveyard where John's father and great grandfather ended their lives. It is possible that John disrupts his family's pattern by avoiding ending his journey in the same spot as Moses and C.K. It is likely that his act expresses a desire to split from his biological ancestors, and an attempt to re-establish connection through his surrogate father. It can be interpreted as an attempt to express his ability to move beyond his biological family's tradition, and link his personal history to the history of all African Americans especially that that reclaiming the past in the novel happens through a cultural and historical connection.

[8] Cathy Brigham, "Identity, Masculinity, and Desire in David Bradley's Fiction," in Contemporary Literature, 36 (1995), p. 313.

[9] Ensslen sees that the novel's ending is utopian expressing the possibility of union between black and white. He concludes that John's last tale in which he suggests that the fugitive slaves were buried by a white man (Iames), expresses a desire to bridge the white/black antagonism, and constitutes an appeal to Judith to bridge racial boundaries, p. 293.

[10] Trudier Harris, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 182.

[11] Philip Egan, "Unraveling Misogyny and Forging the Self: Mother, Lover, and Storyteller in The Chaneysville Incident", Papers on Language and Literature, 33 (1997), pp. 284-7. See Ashraf H. A Rushdy, Remembering Generations: Race and Family in Contemporary African American Fiction (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) for a further discussion on the significance of John's act of burning his documents and what it signifies. Rushdy argues that "Bradley has John destroy only some of the implements and records of historical research, but he keeps the books, the diaries, and the maps in the cabin for the next person who will need them" p. 191.

[12] In The Chaneysville Incident Bradley uses the story of Harriet Tubman to construct Moses Washington, and uses his mother's search into the incident of runaway slaves as a historical basis for his novelistic project (See Blake & Miller, p. 24). It is important to note that in both occasions it is women who have provided the first lines for the creation of the stories.

[13] Sarah Bradford in her biographical account of Tubman contends that Tubman was famously known as Moses, "Many of her [Harriet's] Passes were sent to me; in which she is spoken of as Moses, for by that name she was universally known," p. 77.

[14] Bradley's modeling of Harriette Brewer on a historical female figure is analogous to Michelle Cliff's Mary Ellen Pleasant, a nineteenth century African American woman who secretly financed John Brown's Raid. See Michelle Cliff, Free Enterprise (1993).

[15] Bonetti, p.82.

[16] Bradford, p. 96.

[17] Nies, p.52.

[18] Bradford, p.96.

[19] Nies, p. 43.

[20] Nies writes that "By the end of 1850s the slave owners of Maryland had posted rewards totaling $40,000 for the arrest of the woman known to the slaves as Moses", p. 43.

[21] Bradford, p.29.

[22] Melanie J. Wright, p.71.

[23] Nies, p. 41.

[24] Tubman also purchased a house for her parents in the North and set her self to work to pay for it and looked after them till they passed away. See Bradford (p.115-16) for more details.

[25] Bradford, p. 111.

[26] Brigham, p. 304.

Maha Marouan is an assistant professor in the department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama.

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