Barracoon

by

Zora Neale Hurston

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Boats and the Middle Passage Symbol Analysis

Boats and the Middle Passage Symbol Icon

One of the first things enslaved people experience after being kidnapped, the Middle Passage symbolizes the horror of the slave trade. Packed into shelf-like bunks into the hold, victims suffered overcrowding, terrible hygienic conditions, illness, and mistreatment; fatalities during the Middle Passage are estimated at about 15%, and Cudjo’s memories of the experience are so awful that he can barely discuss them. Besides physical suffering, the Middle Passage is the site of psychological trauma. Crammed below the decks, enslaved people are treated explicitly like objects, to be traded for other property on arrival in America. In the introduction, Hurston calls it “the first leg of their journey from humanity to cattle.” In this sense, the Middle Passage enacts the policy of dehumanization and white supremacy on which the institution of slavery rests.

Moreover, the Middle Passage represents the conflict between cultures that will dominate the rest of Cudjo’s life. While he is on the ship, Cudjo is suspended between Africa and America, belonging to neither; his old life is gone completely, but in America he will be denied rights and treated as a piece of property. Similarly, after gaining his freedom, Cudjo adopts certain aspects of Western culture (such as Christianity and the English language), but he still preserves his native traditions any way he can. Return to West Africa is impossible, but it’s also impossible for Cudjo to feel accepted and at home in a society that discriminates against him at every turn. Thus, the Middle Passage is a foretaste of the cultural alienation and marginalization that persists long after slavery is officially ended.

Boats and the Middle Passage Quotes in Barracoon

The Barracoon quotes below all refer to the symbol of Boats and the Middle Passage. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Amistad edition of Barracoon published in 2018.
Chapter 6 Quotes

Oh Lor’, I so shame! We come in de ‘Merica soil naked and de people say we naked savage. Dey say we doan wear no clothes. Dey doan know de Many-costs snatch our clothes ‘way from us.

Related Characters: Kossula / Cudjo Lewis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Boats and the Middle Passage
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

We lookee and lookee and lookee and lookee and we doan see nothin’ but water. Where we come from we doan know. Where we goin, we doan know.

Related Characters: Kossula / Cudjo Lewis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Boats and the Middle Passage
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Dat de first time in de Americky soil dat death find where my door is. But we from cross de water know dat he come in de ship with us.

Related Symbols: Boats and the Middle Passage
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
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Boats and the Middle Passage Symbol Timeline in Barracoon

The timeline below shows where the symbol Boats and the Middle Passage appears in Barracoon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Introduction
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
...former slaves have had their say. In particular, almost no one who lived through the Middle Passage has been able to tell their story. Now, there’s only one survivor of that journey... (full context)
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
...when her mentor, the anthropologist Franz Boas, dispatches her to record his experience of the Middle Passage for publication in a magazine about African American history. She supplements her interviews with research... (full context)
Chapter 6
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
...port on the coast. They’re kept in another barracoon for three weeks; they can see ships in the ocean, but the view is obstructed by other buildings. Here, Cudjo sees white... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...lead them to the beach. The white slave trader (Captain Foster) is carried to the ship in a hammock and the captives follow, wading in the water. Men from the Kroo... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
When they reach the ships, the Kroos rob them of their clothes. Cudjo says he is ashamed, because he doesn’t... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
Onboard the ship, the crew makes everyone lie down in the dark hold. Everyone stays there for thirteen... (full context)
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Cudjo suffers greatly onboard the Clotilda. He’s very scared by the constant noise and motion of the ship, which pitches up... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...to stay in the hold and be quiet, so that the government doesn’t discover the ship is carrying slaves. At night, the ship moves again; Cudjo later learns that it is... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Cultural Relativism Theme Icon
...the slaves are divided up into small groups. After losing their home and enduring the Middle Passage , they are distraught to be separated once again. Everyone cries and sings a traditional... (full context)
Chapter 8
The American Dream Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...drum and perform songs from their homeland. All of the villagers brought over on the Clotilda gather from the various plantations to be together. They don’t want to stay with the... (full context)
Chapter 9
Family Theme Icon
...find where my door is” in America, but he knows that death “come in de ship wid us” from Africa. (full context)
Chapter 11
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
The American Dream Theme Icon
...that he runs into the forest. Some men who had crossed the ocean on the Clotilda seek him out and bring him home, telling him that Seely has calmed down. (full context)