I am watching Lizzie’s two children and hoping they will be beat. And I am hoping that Fran, the white mistress who has adopted them (as much as a slave can be adopted by it’s owner), will be the one to do it. It is a raw and reactionary desire. I want those children to come to their senses that badly.
I am furious with my own helplessness. It is the kind of storyline that makes you scream at the book or the screen: Lizzie is your real mother! You are a slave! That bitch is playing you! She will break your heart!
It is the kind of history that reminds me why white women and women of color find it so difficult to get along.
In Out of the House of Bondage, Thavolia Glymph writes:
“Not only did white women’s violence, and their ownership and management of slaves make it impossible for black people to see them as ideal models of a “kind and gentle womanhood,” but they resulted in specific practices of resistance…Contrary to most interpretations, violence on the part of white women was integral to the making of slavery, crucial to shaping black and white Women’s understanding of what it meant to be female, and no more defensible than master’s violence.”
Fran is no monster. Unable to have her own children, when she eventually begins to see Lizzie’s babies by her husband as more than property or illicit offspring, she covets them. She buys them fancy clothes and toys, she forbids Lizzie from assigning them chores or any other slave work, she lets them sleep in the room with her. But while she gives them everything she might have given her own children, Fran can only consider keeping them in the fantasy life she is able to create on the plantation. That they are slaves, that they are black (although one of the children is quite light-skinned), that everyone knows how they were conceived are all facts of Southern life Fran is unable to ignore. Fran is also deploying a painful revenge on Lizzie’s unchoice to have relations with Daryle, to have his children, killing two birds with one stone. More than dolls, less than kin, Fran’s actions emerge from the gnarled and tainted interpersonal relationships which made slavery possible. And her position as the white female wife of a slaveowner poisons her willingness to confront these relations, even as she uses the power of that position to take what she wants, lash out, and enfold herself in the short-term gratification of having Nathan and Rabbit, like dolls, join her in her bed while she sleeps.
Valdez ends the fantasy, as she must. Instead of having Fran issue a reprimand or in some other way act like a mistress over the two children, she introduces a new character into the story. Billy, the six year old son of Fran’s sister, who will stay with them for several weeks. Forced back into the quarters, Lizzie must now, as black mothers throughout real and literary time must, remanage and reconfigure her children’s expectations. And the text avoids causing real physical harm to the two children or requiring Fran to impose violence in order to set the carnival of kinship to right.
But I am still left with this feeling. And the lingering knowledge that I would have preferred the white woman to inflict some kind of pain on two innocent and unassuming babies. And I would have read it as gratification and retribution for their behavior just pages ago. But who “they” is (Fran, Nathan, Rabbit) and who is avenging who (Lizzie? Fran?) I couldn’t tell you.
That is the kind of communal hell slavery has left us with.