By Kevin Pelletier
concentrating on more than a few vital anti-slavery figures, together with David Walker, Nat Turner, Maria Stewart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism illustrates how antislavery discourse labored to redefine violence and vengeance because the final expression (rather than denial) of affection and sympathy. on the sametime, those warnings of apocalyptic retribution enabled antislavery writers to precise, albeit in some way, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What started as a sentimental approach quick grew to become an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the full annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.
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Extra resources for Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature
Much like the example of paulus with which I opened this book, where God’s vengeance is understood to be a clear indication of his love for the oppressed, John Brown’s violence in Virginia (and in Kansas) is seen to be the true sign of his loving heart and the reason he can be so easily regarded by supporters as a sentimental figure. At the same time that John Brown constitutes the apotheosis of apocalyptic sentimentalism, his actions also precipitated the erosion of this discourse as well, as some supporters struggled to balance his violent acts with his loving words.
Walker cannot simply appeal to the hearts of white readers when these hearts no longer perform their primary function as symbolic repositories of emotion and agents of sympathetic identification. It is typically at these moments when Walker imagines the failure of white sympathy that he also expresses his deep rage for white Americans and articulates some of his most emphatic calls for divine retribution, such as this one, which immediately follows the preceding passage: And I am awfully afraid that pride, prejudice, avarice and blood, will, before long prove the final ruin of this happy republic, or land of liberty!
Stowe appends excerpts from Turner’s Confessions not to distance herself from sentimentality or because she has failed to devise a proper response to slavery but to affirm, once and for all, the absolute necessity of terror and vengeance within a sentimental antislavery politics. Of course, like Tom, Dred is murdered near the end of the narrative. But Dred’s death, I show, serves a different purpose than did Tom’s, both aesthetically and politically. What is perhaps most surprising is that with Dred’s death, Stowe, rather than renouncing vengeance, firmly establishes it in the novel’s sentimental economy.
Apocalyptic Sentimentalism: Love and Fear in U.S. Antebellum Literature by Kevin Pelletier