By Donald A. Petesch
Publication by way of Petesch, Donald A.
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I went there frequently to observe their habits. 13 Thoreau's wit and metaphors act to deflate the pretensions and posturing of human activity, as when the big guns fired on gala days sound in his beanfield like popguns or puffballs. His stance is that of the outsider, viewing the quiddities of our beliefs, rituals, and social arrangements, and no one saw earlier, or more profoundly, their makeshift nature. But the viewing is distanced, even when he writes, "I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you should have spent your time better than digging in this dirt";14 the voice is less that of fellow sufferer, more that of the tradition initiated by the early Puritan biographies and reflected in Franklin's autobiographylife as exemplum.
By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. " It is little wonder that "The Village" is Walden's briefest chapter. He goes to view its denizens as though he were an early naturalist or anthropologist: As I walked in the woods to see the birds and squirrels, so I walked in the village to see the men and boys; instead of the wind among the pines I heard the carts rattle.
Conditions under slavery readily bred a tendency for slaves to think in terms of "we" and "they," however divisive the differences in tribal backgrounds might have been or the differences which sometimes existed between field and house slaves. American slavery was not the slavery they had been accustomed to in Africa, and the differences were not lost upon them. American slavery, in its most extreme forms, required labor from dawn till dusk (from "day clean" to ''first dark") or even later; determined who could or could not marry; disciplined slaves and their children; broke up families; abandoned elders to starvation; and provided inadequate food, housing, clothing, and medical care.