This paper examines Arna Bontemps’ novel Black Thunder in the context of white and African American visions and re-visions of the revolution in St. Domingue. The revolution in St. Domingue was one of the most significant events in the western hemisphere, with enormous political and cultural consequences, especially for Louisiana. Yet among white authors it has either gone largely unnoted, or has been used to serve a variety of racial and cultural agendas. For example, Edward Laroque Tinker’s novel Toucoutou, based on a mid-19th century court case involving a woman of color who is “outed” for passing as white, introduces the revolution to connect a supposed African predisposition to sexual license and violence with dangers to racial purity and white rule. African American writers have responded to the depoliticizing and sexualizing of black responses to repression, and the Haitian revolution in particular, in various ways; Charles Chesnutt’s novel The Marrow of Tradition (1901), based on the 1898 race riots in Wilmington, North Carolina, argues that “the qualities which in a white man would win the applause of the world would in a negro be taken as marks of savagery” and his Paul Marchand, FMC, set in New Orleans, sympathetically portrays two wrongly-imprisoned Creole men’s desire for a revenge inspired by St. Domingue. The most complex response to such white conceptions of African American and Haitian revolutionary impulses, however, is Arna Bontemps’s Black Thunder, a novel which presents Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 rebellion in Virginia as the legitimate heir of the Haitian and French revolutions and re-imagines the Voodoo ceremony (including the killing of a hog) at Bois Caiman—often used as an example of African savagery--as part of a genuinely political consciousness.
|Keywords:||Culture, African American, Revolution, Rebellion, Violence, Sexuality, St. Domingue, Haiti, Creole, Race|
Professor, English Department, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana, USA
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