Mansfield Park paper - Jamie Jacobson Professor Brideoake 14 December 2012 The Plague of the West Indies the Corruption of Slavery on the Bertram Family

Mansfield Park paper - Jamie Jacobson Professor Brideoake...

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Jamie JacobsonProfessor Brideoake14 December 2012The Plague of the West Indies: the Corruption of Slavery on the Bertram Family in Mansfield Park“If you don’t have a strong moral standing, if you don’t have an ethical foundation, you just crumble.” This quote by Christopher Shays addresses the idea that to build something great, it must begin with good intentions and a belief in what is right.The embodiment of this can be seen in the immorality that leads to the near collapse of the Bertram family in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Parkas a direct result of their wealth being completely garnered from the blood and tears of slaves.The morally abhorrent behavior of the Bertram family, the overseer-like actions of Sir Thomas, and the unjust, lower status of Fanny Price, likening her to a slave, are all evidence of the contamination that holdings in Antigua have brought to Mansfield Park.Since the sixteenth century, Great Britain, with the aid of the strongest navy in the world, rose to become one of the largest Imperial Empires in the world with colonies in the Americas, Africa, Caribbean, Asia, and the Pacific.However, with the rise of power also can the flourishing of the British slave trade as more workers were needed.One of the prime trading post was the Caribbean, which was more populated by slaves than Europeans.The necessity of massive numbers of African slaves in this region was due to the immense popularity of sugar: a labor intensive product that was difficult to tend in the harsh climate.It was not unusual in this era for people, like the Bertrams, to achieve financial gain through the exploitation of this system and it was considered a respectable form of employment.However, in Britain slavery was always
viewed as a practice in far off lands and it was a commonly held belief that the air in England was too pure for slaves.Eventually, sentiments evolved and individuals, especially Christians and Quakers, began an abolitionist movement that lasted from 1783 until 1833.Through the efforts of William Wilberforce, James Ramsay and William Roscoe, by the turn of the nineteenth century the characterization of slavery transformed and was described as a “crime […] which keeps down all the noble faculties of [slaves’] souls and which positively debases and corrupts their nature” (Clarkson).Austen sets the main events of Mansfield Parkin the year 1803 when abolitionists were sparking numerous controversial debates over the morality of the slave trade. Furthermore, only four years later the Slave Trade Act of 1807 was passed which made all trading of slaves illegal in the British Empire (the ownership of slaves, however, was not abolished until 1833).Jane Austen began writing this novel in 1811 and thus deliberately setting the events eight years prior, illustrates to the reader the importance of the slave trade and Antigua to the Bertram’s way of life.

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