[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
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        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. 

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"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.

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Robert Milde
Department of English & Theatre
Eastern Kentucky University
859-622-3181
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