Home > Book, Genre, nonfiction, Reading Project, Review > Book Review: Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph (The Real Help Reading Project)

Book Review: Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph (The Real Help Reading Project)

Plantation house and slave houses.Summary:
Thavolia Glymph analyzes the power relations between black and white southern women within the plantation household in the antebellum, Civil War, and immediately post-Civil War American South utilizing primarily slave narratives/interviews and the diaries and letters of white mistresses.

Review:
I am chagrined to admit that not only is this the first time I was late on the schedule of The Real Help Reading Project I am co-hosting with Amy, but I was exactly a week late!  The lesson I have learned?  Never schedule a timely thing for a holiday weekend.  I apologize to Amy and everyone following along for making you wait, but at least it was Amy’s turn to host!  Moving right along….

Whereas Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow was extraordinarily all-encompassing, here Glymph narrows her focus severely to only relationships between black and white women in traditional plantation households in the American South.  She, alas, stops her analysis around the turn of the 20th century, only venturing into the unique relations within the domestic work realm depicted in The Help in the epilogue.  However, this book is quite valuable in that it analyzes the relationships that led up to that odd dynamic of the 1950s and 1960s.

This book covers a lot of information, but what sticks out the most to me in retrospect was how much work and effort it took to maintain a racist, unequal society.  The white mistresses had this odd, completely illogical dichotomy of viewing black women both as inferior and needing their guidance and as naturally suited to hard labor.  My eyes practically bugged out of my head when reading of white women teaching black women to do chores that supposedly white women were too weak to do….and yet they were perfectly capable of doing them well enough to show the black women what they wanted done.  Um….what?  That is the sort of illogical situation that only someone entirely committed to a belief system, no matter how wrong, will be able to come to terms with.

Similarly, the former mistresses predicted the imminent downfall of their former house slaves only to find themselves hired by these same freedwomen to sew fine dresses for them with the money they earned by working the plantation.  Yet, the former mistresses persisted in believing in the racial inferiority of the freedwomen.  Perhaps the most mind-boggling to me was the story of one former mistress who wound up teaching at a freed black school, yet even though she was with these children daily, she still believed in white supremacy.  Why this persistent need to believe you’re better than someone else?  Personally, it seems to me that the white men were so constantly judgmental of the white women that they reacted by taking it out on those society deemed inferior to them.  If black free women rose to their same status, then who would they take their frustrations out on?  This logic doesn’t free the white women of the guilt that they definitely deserve, but it does help to make sense of their ability to take on completely illogical stances.

I feel that I am repeating myself a bit with this project, but the books repeatedly demonstrate how inequality on any level acts as a poison to the whole society.  I hope that is something that we modern readers will bare in mind in our own daily lives.

Source: BookU

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Please head over to Amy’s post to discuss this book!

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  1. December 5, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Hey no worries at all – life does get in the way sometimes and should come first to blogging projects 🙂

    I think the repetition is kind of one of the best parts of the project for me. Highlights how you have to really TRY to maintain an ignorance of the truth, you know? Because it is there in so many fantastic books. So glad we’re getting the chance to read some of them!

    • December 5, 2011 at 8:53 am

      Oh absolutely the repetition is interesting and important! I think that in writing up my review I was feeling a bit paranoid that maybe I missed something in the book? But then I saw you came to the same conclusions, so yay I didn’t. 🙂

      It fascinates me how we’re seeing the same thing in so many of the books for the project–it takes more effort to maintain ignorance as truth than to accept the truth–and yet that topic is talked about so infrequently. It’s kind of sad, actually.

  2. December 6, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I was nodding my head as I read your comment on the effort it takes to maintain a racist,unequal society. In fact, any system of oppression. The sad thing the ones doing the most work, in this case in slavery, were white women and poor white people, who were themselves oppressed. This was all for the benefit of wealthy white men. It’s always been a class strruggle that has manifested in slavery, misogyny, etc.

    • December 6, 2011 at 9:31 am

      And it’s sad that human nature is such that so many just participate in the system in an effort to get ahead rather than revolutionize. *sighs*

  1. December 5, 2011 at 8:29 am
  2. December 15, 2011 at 1:04 am
  3. December 24, 2011 at 9:38 am

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