Essay Slavery and Cowper

3538 Words Mar 29th, 2013 15 Pages
“The Negro’s Complaint” by William Cowper

In “The Negro’s Complaint”, which was published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in December 1793, William Cowper successfully creates a dramatic monologue in which the Negro slave is given the full chance to give a fervent, heartfelt account of the journey of suffering, cruelty, and disdain from the pleasures of freedom in Africa to the tortures of slavery in England. The Negro is further allowed to defend the humanity of the African race, refute all the slave traders’ pretexts for racial discrimination, and finally, investigate the validity of the European domineering power over their fellow human beings.

The Negro begins his pathetic complaint by a logical discussion of the basic pillar of
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The utilization of such musical symmetry not only testifies the hollowness of the slave trader’s materialistic pretexts, but it also corroborates the conspicuousness of human liberty, which is incomparable to any pecuniary profits whatsoever. Onomatopoeia is also used in words like “sigh” and “lolling” in the third stanza to achieve a realistic sound effect juxtaposing the terrible anguish of the downtrodden slaves, and the slothful pleasures of the brutal slave traders. Thanks to Cowper’s clever use of such phonetic tools, the Negro’s passionate account of slavery penetrates directly into the reader’s soul, producing the desired satirical impression.

In his book Understanding Poetry, James Reeves writes:

We are reminded that poetry, like life itself, depends on a balance between the intellect and the senses, the mind and the body, thought and action. Yet in the best poetry it is the sensuous element which predominates. If there are to be ideas in a poem, it is better that they should be apprehended through concrete and sensuously realized imagery. (160)

It is through such “concrete sensuously realized imagery” that Cowper conveys his anti-slavery ideals. In his poem “The Negro’s Complaint”, Cowper’s main preoccupation is to “communicate experience, not information” (Perrine and Arp 553). He presents a specific situation initially introduced in the title of the poem. A socially dead outsider Negro slave persona,

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