A few more words from George Eliot:
Celia's mind towards her elder sister. The younger had always worn a yoke; but is there any yoked creature without its private opinions?
A man's mind--what there is of it--has always the advantage of being masculine,--as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm,--and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality.
I spend a lot of time arguing against analogy, and perhaps "against analogy" is the wrong way to put it. I analogize all the time. This entire exploration into the novel of manners--Wharton, Austen, Eliot--is to understand how people live in a bonded society, and really in hopes of better understanding slavery.
18th century England and late 19th century New York are obviously very different than the slave society of the antebellum South. But viewing one from the perspective of the other, comparing the two has, indeed, been enlightening. Here's Angelina Grimke on how she became a Women's Rights activists:
The investigation of the rights of the slave has led me to better understand my own.
I actually feel like that about the particular struggle of women of all colors. What Paula Giddings describes in, say, A Sword Among Lions is an Ida B. Wells of some relation to me, but not the same. When Drew Gilpin Faust is looking at slave-holding matriarchs, I see lives and ambitions that are almost directly antithetical to my own. And yet when Faust quotes a a frustrated, slave-holding, white supremacist Julia Le Grand...
I can't tell you what a life of suppression we lead. I feel it more because I know and feel all that is going on outside. I am like a pent-up volcano. I wish I had a field for my energies. I hate common life, a life of visiting, dressing and tattling, which seems to devolve on women, and now that there is better work to do, real tragedy, real romance and history weaving every day, I suffer, suffer, leading the life I do.
...I think of my father, at 16, in North Philadelphia, having read Hugo, having read Dostoevsky, having endured people dying around him, and feeling utterly trapped. I think of him dropping out of high school, or telling me that before he joined the Black Panther Party he had never had any conversation of intellectual substance about literature with anyone.
Le Grand had privileges that my father are enemies in history. But at all events, one lights the other.
This is analogizing. It's inescapable. My thoughts are in progress, and perhaps articulated with significant flaws. But what I think I object--what rankles me--is people who analogize with no real interest, or curiosity, or desire of investigation. As an African-American, there is this sense that we are always objects in someone else's narrative, that we exist as objects.
So when we claim "abortion is like slavery," do we really care about what slavery, in this country, actually was? Do we understand the problems in even saying "slavery" as though it were one, reducible thing? When we say "nigger is the woman of the world?" Do we have much interest in what it truly means to live as a nigger? Or, frankly, as a woman? Are we curious? Or are we just desperately convinced of our own self-righteousness? What is our ultimate aim?
I read those Eliot quotes and something familiar comes to me. I do see some insight into the historical condition of black people. My old man was not the Julia Le Grand of North Philly. I am not Miss Brooks. I don't even need to be.
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