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

7. Slavery and

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Activities: Author Activities

Briton Hammon - Teaching Tips

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  • Critics have debated whether Hammon composed his "Narrative" entirely on his own or employed a white editor to write all or part of it. Some suggest that the religiously orthodox opening and closing of the text point to the hand of a white minister, while others argue that such formulaic qualities are merely traditional characteristics of the captivity genre and thus offer little insight into its authorship. Ask students what they think of this debate. How would it change our understanding of the text if we could establish whether Hammon wrote it on his own or dictated it to a white writer?

  • Hammon opens his "Narrative" with a modest disavowal of his own ability to properly "read" his experiences: "As my capacities and conditions of life are very low, it cannot be expected that I should make those remarks on the sufferings I have met with, or the kind providence of a good God for my preservation, as one in a higher station, but shall leave that to the reader as he goes along, and so I shall only relate matters of fact as they occur to my mind." Ask students to consider why Hammon begins his text this way. Why might this opening have been appealing to his audience? How sincere is Hammon's protestation of his own "low capacities"? Does he in fact restrict himself only to "matters of fact" in recounting his experiences?

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