Celia, a Slave


Melton McLaurin

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Themes and Colors
Historical Silence Theme Icon
The Political and the Personal Theme Icon
Slavery and Sexual Exploitation Theme Icon
Reform vs. Resistance Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Celia, a Slave, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Historical Silence

The reader may be surprised to find that, despite its being an otherwise rigorous, nonfictional, and historical account of the experiences of a slave, Celia, A Slave contains a great deal of speculation about the events it depicts. On nearly every page, McLaurin encounters gaps in the historical record and attempts to fill them with educated guesswork. Guesswork is of course important in the study of history, but in this case it may seem exaggerated…

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The Political and the Personal

Celia, A Slave might be called a micro-history—that is, an historical account that covers the life of an ordinary person, someone considered inconsequential by both historians and her contemporaries. For McLaurin, this unconventional approach to history can prove particularly illuminating. He says as much in his introduction, writing, “the lives of lesser figures, men and women who lived and died in virtual anonymity, often better illustrate certain aspects of the major issues of a particular…

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Slavery and Sexual Exploitation

Celia, A Slave depicts an instance in which the brutality and moral depravity of the institution of slavery impacted the life of an individual slave. In this way the book’s approach was somewhat novel when it was first published, as previous accounts of slavery had focused primarily on the larger, more abstract qualities of the institution. In particular, few historians had yet focused so exclusively on the toll slavery took on black women.

As Celia

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Reform vs. Resistance

The events of Celia, A Slave occur against the backdrop of an increasingly untenable, increasingly violent debate over the future of slavery in America, which took place in the 1840s and ‘50s and paved the way for the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860. For those determined to abolish slavery, or at least prevent its spread into Kansas and the other western territories of the United States, the question of how best to oppose…

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