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A Literary Critique of the Book of Negroes

Lawrence Hill’s novel The Book of Negroes tells the story of Aminata Diallo, a young lady sold into slavery. Slave traffickers capture 11-year-old Aminata from her village in western Africa after she witnesses the brutal deaths of both of her parents, and she is shipped to America. When the ship docks in South Carolina, Aminata is sold to Robinson Appleby, and no one knows what happens to Chekura, the youngster she befriended while onboard the slave ship. Chekura and Aminata’s relationship continues to grow despite this setback, as Chekura visits her at Appleby’s plantation, and soon Aminata gives birth to a baby. When Aminata and her son are sold to different enslavers, her son dies, leaving her heartbroken. Solomon Lindo, her new enslaver, takes Aminata on a business trip to New York City, where she escapes and finds refuge in Canvas Town. In this community, free Black people and fugitive slaves coexist. They offered to send her to Nova Scotia, promising her freedom and land for Black people who helped British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. She accepts. Chekura arrives in Canvas Town as well, and the two of them make plans to travel to Nova Scotia together. However, Aminata is separated from Chekura at the last minute, and she ends up sailing to Nova Scotia on a different ship. In Nova Scotia, may is born to Aminata when she arrives. During the Shelbourne, Nova Scotia riots, Aminata, who had left her daughter May with a white family, found that the ship Chekura on which she and her daughter boarded arrived in Nova Scotia sunk before they arrived. No land has been promised, so the Sierra Leone Company is financing mass migrations to Sierra Leone for all unsatisfied Black people in Canada; Aminata loses hope of seeing her daughter and decides to join. In England, she is ultimately reunited with her daughter. At the end of the story, when she leaves Sierra Leone and boards a ship to help the anti-slavery cause in England, she finally arrives back in her hometown of Bayo.

When anarchy breaks out on the slave ship Aminata is on, the author uses foreshadowing to great effect, and it’s one of the best examples in the book. During the last few days of her life, Sanu gives birth to a baby girl named after Aminata, whom Sanu calls after Aminata because of her generosity. “Tears burst from Sanu’s eyes, and that unleashed all the anguish within me. I was overcome with grief.” The tears streamed down Sanu’s face as she sat quietly and fed the baby as I sobbed and shaken until my eyes were dry. “It was bad karma, I knew, to weep at the birth of a child” (Hill 57). The author foreshadows the impending doom of the infant and the other captives in this sequence. There are cries from Sanu’s kid a few days after the ship leaves port. Our descent was obvious to it. Once more, it wailed, gulped, and screamed” (Hill 66). In this passage, the author’s foreshadowing of the slave ship’s ill-fated events is more explicit. Amid the struggle between enslaved people and slave traders, Aminata saw Fanta run up to Sanu, who was crouched on the deck cradling her infant child (Hill 104).

As Hill employs the art of foreshadowing, he hints that Sanu’s baby and the other prisoners will die. Firsthand accounts of the crimes performed by Aminata’s character also aid the reader in evoking empathy for her. To understand why Aminata becomes perplexed when she sees another enslaved person being shaved’s head, the reader must delete their prior knowledge of the story’s events. As long as I can’t get away from him, what will happen to me?” There’s a hill there. This is Aminata’s first encounter with the concept of modern slavery, and she has no idea how the enslavers keep their hold on their enslaved labor force.

Historical fiction by Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes is based on the experiences of Black people who were abducted and enslaved in the 17th century. Because his parents were both African-American and white, Lawrence Hill was born in a country where there was little tolerance for interracial unions during his parents’ immigration to Canada in 1953. Only 4% of Americans favored “marriages between whites and coloreds” when the poll was taken in (McCarthy 1958). As a result, it’s understandable that a kid born to an interracial couple would face difficulties coming to terms with their ethnicity. An important issue in work revolves around Aminata’s struggle to return to her native Africa, where she is not accepted as an African, and a woman tells her, “You have the look of someone born in this land, yet you come with toubab. A “toubab with a dark face” is what you are (Hill 441). In addition, Hill’s parents were both civil rights advocates at a period when most Canadians thought of Canada as a “post-racial paradise,” even though racism was still prevalent in many parts of the country.

Similarly, in the book, racism is not denied. Still, it is justified, and it is maintained that slave traffickers are saving the savage people of Africa with the gift of Christianity and contemporary civilization. How bad was the experience for you?’ Armstrong inquires of Aminata during the conversation. The picture of health and well-being that you present to the world is a healthy individual dressed in comfortable clothing and with food in your stomach. For the most part, people don’t have it that good. ” (Hill 470). Both Hill’s upbringing in a particular social milieu and the values instilled in him by his parents likely impacted the content of this book.

Slavery and emancipation are major concerns in Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. “Nearly twenty years had passed since I was kidnapped in the woods outside of Bayo, but here I was, all alone and encircled by the trees of another continent- and I was free again” (Hill 287). Since she was a child, she has lived her entire adult life in servitude to a different person, and today is her first taste of independence. Her emotional anguish about being separated from her husband and daughter in Nova Scotia, although being physically free, has been crippling. Aminata is concerned that if she returns to Africa, she won’t see her daughter or husband again because of the Sierra Leone Company’s preparations for an expedition to Sierra Leone. Even though she is a free woman, the hope that her family will return to Nova Scotia prevents her from going to Africa, where she has longed to be for so long (403-foot-high). Aminata reminds the Governor’s wife, “It’s about more than land,” when she joins them for Christmas dinner at Government House in Nova Scotia. For me, it’s a matter of personal liberation. As a group, we want to control our destiny. However, this place is withering” (Hill 411). Black Nova Scotians are also economically disenfranchised, making it impossible for them to lead a truly “free” existence in the province.

Overall, Lawrence Hill did an excellent job at depicting slavery’s horrors. While it’s more difficult to connect with a big group of people than it is with an individual, Hill’s use of first-person narration in The Book of Negroes makes it easier for the reader to identify with the plight of African Americans. Even though I could have perished many times over, Aminata is now standing on the brink of yet another voyage over the water. For the first time, it had been a choice. This one was a personal favorite of mine Chekura was no longer alive. Mamadu had succumbed to his wounds. The last time we saw May was in 2012. Even if she were still alive, I doubt she had any recollection of me and was not planning on returning. I felt like half of my body was missing when I wasn’t around my three closest loved ones (Hill 415). It becomes clear to the reader how awful her condition is and in danger. “Many times, that winter, I dropped onto my knees and shouted out the names of my parents, my kid, and my husband wailing for them as if they had just gone missing with my most recent exhale,” she recalls in her memoir (Hill 367). The Book of Negroes, by Lawrence Hill, is a novel that effectively conveys the book’s central idea and does it in an engaging way for the reader.

Works Cited

Lawrence Hill | Studies in Canadian Literature, University of New Brunswick,

Sagawa, Jessie. “View of Projecting History Honestly: An Interview with Lawrence Hill: Studies in Canadian Literature.” View of Projecting History Honestly: An Interview with Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes: A Novel. HarperCollins, 2011.

McCarthy, Justin. “U.S. Approval of Interracial Marriage at New High of 94%.”, Gallup, 20 Nov. 2021,


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