“It is for Freedom that You Have Been Set Free”: Christianity, Minor Characters, and Conceptions of Freedom in Three Works by William Wells Brown (thesis)
By the time William Wells Brown was writing these works, abolition as Christian reform in the United States had become a residual discourse left over from earlier conversations. Despite the shift from Christian reform to moral and political reform, the language of Christianity reappears continually in the background of Wells Brown’s work. The first example of this discourse, discussed in Chapter One, is the role of Christian conversion experiences within the minor characters in Clotel, and how said conversions influence their actions and lead to true freedom for slaves. Chapter Two turns to Wells Brown’s play, The Escape, and analyzes the role of God-ordained marriage in both creating the desire for freedom and sustaining that desire through the struggle for freedom. Finally, Chapter Three traces Wells Brown’s prayers and references to Christianity in his own Narrative to show how the closer he is to God, the closer he is to freedom. Ultimately, Wells Brown’s texts show that freedom is more than living in the North, being free from physical brutality, learning to read, or even changing the laws of the country so that no person can be legally enslaved. Freedom comes through Christian reform, and is perpetuated by conversion experiences, God-ordained marriage, and prayer. [From Prologue]
Thesis; [FULL-TEXT FREELY AVAILABLE ONLINE]William L. Northcutt is a member of the Class of 2017 of Washington and Lee University.