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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

7. Slavery and

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
- Overview Questions
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- Creative Response
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Activities: Author Activities

William and Ellen Craft - Teaching Tips

Back Back to William and Ellen Craft Activities
  • William is careful to insist that Ellen was reluctant to cross-dress: "My wife had no ambition whatever to assume this disguise, and would not have done so had it been possible to have obtained our liberty by more simple means." While he ironically refers to Ellen as "my master" throughout the narrative, he also highlights moments when she "breaks character" and behaves in a stereotypically feminine manner, acting "nervous and timid," "shrinking back" at crucial moments, and bursting into "violent sobs." Ask students to consider why William might have been invested in asserting his wife's normative femininity in this way. What kinds of tensions does her assumption of male clothing introduce into the narrative? What kinds of challenges does her "masculine" role pose for William as both her husband and the narrator of their story?

  • Although other abolitionists printed versions of the Crafts' story, William Craft did not publish his own narrative until 1860, twelve years after their escape. Many critics speculate that Craft waited so long because he wanted to write with complete independence--that is, without the aid of a white ghost-writer or editor--and needed to acquire literary skills in order to do so. Once you have provided students with this background information, ask them to think about the role of literacy in the narrative. Ellen's inability to write is figured as an important issue, and the Crafts' reading and writing lessons with the Quaker family in Philadelphia function as an important turning point in their quest for freedom. How are literacy and freedom bound together? What does literacy have to do with identity for the Crafts? How does the Crafts' attitude toward literacy compare to Frederick Douglass's?

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