To Be a Slave (Puffin Modern Classics) Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2018-04-02 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 74 user ratings

"A slim, short collection of primary source narratives about American slavery—from abduction in Africa, from birth to death, through the Civil War and into Reconstruction, of incredible power and voice. Though short, the stories, the voices, the details and descriptions of the horrors of slavery are incredibly moving, powerful, and descriptive of the situation, the torture, the pains, the strength and the resilience that people in slavery endured, faced, and suffered. This book is a must read, to understand this critical tie in our history from the people that witnessed it, participated in it, and lived it. Grade: A+" said.

""To the sound of the whip and the shrieks of black men and women, the slave owner and America grew wealthy. Yet it is all the ore remarkable that even now the two hundred years of slavery are looked upon matter-of-factly and not as a time of unrelieved horror." p. 74

Excellent. It wasn't anything new to me, but it was interesting seeing the words of former slaves used to tell the story instead of flat history writing. "You should have known before this late day all about [the conditions of slaves]." p. 156 That pretty well sums things up.

I must say, I would've preferred a more hopeful ending, but I suppose that's the point:
"I don't want you to write my story, 'cause the white folks have been and are now and always will be against the Negro." p. 156
" said.

"I want to give this a higher rating, as the book is incredibly powerful. The commentary from the editor, however, at times leaves much to be desired. Everything from making pretty racist remarks about Native Americans (namely that they were too lazy to work as slaves or that their societies were primitive and this contributed to their supposed laziness??) to dismissing the stories from slaves who expressed love of their masters as "perverse" rather than exploring the idea that it was a complex and deeply unhealthy "love" likely based on something more akin to Stockholm's Syndrome than true affection... The commentary isn't always so bluntly and aggressively problematic, but it definitely has those moments.

The stories from the slaves and ex-slaves, in their own words, are amazingly powerful, however. I truly wish these stories were required reading, especially as the last chapter and the epilogue establish firmly (that seems like too soft a word) that the oppression of African Americans continued beyond the emancipation proclamation, and that in fact slavery didn't truly end but came back under the guise of "share cropping." The full force of hearing this from the people who lived it, or reading their predictions that the United States would never truly be equitable to African Americans, is both absolutely heartbreaking and downright chilling.

While I just finished my own read-through of this book, I am also using it in my tutoring sessions with sixth grade students. We read through a chapter per tutoring session, stopping frequently to debrief the horrors of what we're reading or address questions that the students have. With this book, I have found that my students aren't only willing to learn history, they actively want to know more. When given the option to skip over the rest of one chapter (each chapter addresses one specific aspect of slavery, such as the auction block, and the stories are arranged accordingly, so skipping half of a chapter doesn't necessarily take away from the message or the experience of the overall book) they voted to finish the chapter.

This book takes a history that feels distant and makes it immediate, makes it personal. It doesn't reduce the events described to a series of dates and names to be memorized, but rather provokes emotional connection and empathy through its straight-forward, first-person accounts of the brutality of the slave trade and the practice of slavery in America. Many of the stories are troubling for a whole variety of reasons, and many of the slaves' words may make modern readers, especially white readers, deeply uncomfortable. It is a discomfort that we need, however, in order to truly understand how our history as shaped our today, and in reading this book, my students are proving to me that they are not only capable of doing this, they want to do this.

Reading this book with my students has honestly given me a little of my faith back. I only wish teachers would incorporate this book into their classrooms on a much broader scale. It is is that good at doing what it does (problematic commentary aside, or even treated as a gateway to learning about more issues such as the treatment of indigenous populations by colonizers) and it is that important as a collection of personal historical documents.
" said.

" Julius Lester did an extraordinary job of documenting the lives of slaves in To be a Slave. Lester’s purpose of creating this book was to inform the people of the United States of what it was like to live through slavery as a slave. Most people who were not slaves had a twisted image of what slavery really was. They believed that slaves were dumb and that their only pleasure came from work, singing, and dancing. In reality, they were intellectual human beings who felt the horrors placed upon them with massive amounts of emotion. Lester allows those who have never experienced slavery see the horrors of it, through stories of actual slaves.
The theme of To be a Slave is power. The slave owners were able to make the atrocities that they committed against people acceptable because of the power that they held over everyone. Slave owners often ruled over their slaves with an iron fist, treating them as disposable objects rather than people. A quote that demonstrates their lack of empathy is: “ came three black men, bareheaded, half naked, and chained together with an ox-chain. Last of all came a white man… on horseback, carrying pistols in his belt” (53). This quote shows how the slave owner is trying to dehumanize the slaves before they even reach his plantation. He is breaking their spirits in advance so that he does not have to fight them after they are empowered. A quote that shows the horrendous things owners did to slaves is: “The white folks was beating the slaves, burnin’ ‘em and boilin’ ‘em, workin’ ‘em and doin’ any other thing they wanted to do with them” (30). This quote shows that slave owners were not afraid to do anything to break their slaves. Owners would put their slaves through torture to demonstrate the power that owners had over them.
To be a Slave is written as a narrative. The book is made up of first-hand accounts of slaves who share their stories from plantations. Also, the book is arranged in chronological order from being a slave to the emancipation of slaves. Technically, Lester does not have his own style. Instead, each former slave has their own dialect and tone that they address their story with. An excellent example of a slave's unique style is: “Judge Miller! Don’t you bid for me, ‘cause if you do, I would not live on your plantation. I will take a knife and cut my own throat ear to ear before I would be owned by you” (53). This quote shows the intense hatred slaves felt towards slave owners. This demonstrates that they were willing to take their own lives in any way they could to avoid slave owners. To be a Slave shows the emotions of slaves in the best way possible. By revealing their stories, told by the people who experienced it. The style of this book is very effective. The way it is put together allows the reader stories of slavery from all over the country. It also allows the reader to experience slavery throughout its entire life.
To be a Slave is a book that did an excellent job for the rights of African Americans. Before this book was published no person who did not experience slavery had any idea of the horrors. Those who were not slaves thought slavery was a benefit for them and that the slaves should be thankful for the opportunity to live in the United States. I could not change anything about this story as each story is filled with personal experience and packed with powerful emotions. I have never read any story filled with so much passion before in my life.
" said.

" Had to read it for school and it was dreadful " said.

" There should be nothing but stark reality surrounding this subject, so none of us delude ourselves into thinking the slavery was just part of the romance of the south as in Gone With the Wind. The life of a slave, told by slaves. " said.

" I wish that there were more illustrations because I wanted to get more a visual picture of what they were going through.I like this book because actual slaves were telling their stories.I rate this book a 4 out of 5 because they used real slaves interviews.If i were the author i would have put in more pictures because like i said before i think it's better to get more of a visual picture. " said.

" My english teacher assigned this book to the class and gave us 2 weeks to read it. At some parts, it made you cry, and at other parts, it bored me to tears. Either way, you'll end up crying if you read it. But no it was a pretty good book, not the most interesting through some chapters, but it really made you question life back then in history, and life today. You decide how much you think things have changed. " said.

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