[Humanist] 23.35 servants as automata

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat May 23 08:05:31 CEST 2009

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 35.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 22 May 2009 12:42:07 -0400
        From: "Milde, Robert" <Robert.Milde at EKU.EDU>
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 23.31 servants as automata
        In-Reply-To: <20090522055705.441536263 at woodward.joyent.us>

The (in)famous portrayal of Topsy in _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ has a strong hint of the child slave ("the thing") as a mechanical wind-up doll, and also has a steam-engine image like Dickens. And, a few lines later, Topsy insists that she never had parents. 


"Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing here for?"

"For you to educate, to be sure, and train in the way she should go. I thought she was rather a funny specimen in the Jim Crow line. Here, Topsy," he added, giving a whistle, as a man would to call the attention of a dog, "give us a song, now, and show us some of your dancing."

The black, glassy eyes glittered with a kind of wicked drollery, and the thing struck up, in a clear shrill voice, an odd negro melody, to which she kept time with her hands and feet, spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of time, and producing in her throat all those odd guttural sounds which distinguish the native music of her race; and finally, turning a summerset or two, and giving a prolonged closing note, as odd and unearthly as that of a steam-whistle, she came suddenly down on the carpet, and stood with her hands folded, and a most sanctimonious expression of meekness and solemnity over her face, only broken by the cunning glances which she shot askance from the corners of her eyes.

Robert Milde
Department of English & Theatre
Eastern Kentucky University

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