The Slave Dancer


It all began in the cold month of January, 1840, in New Orleans. Fog laid a heavy blanket on the streets and alleyways of the city. Rain steadily engulfed the seaside locality, and the sound of drunken riverboat men and the slaves celebrating their festivities surrounded the area. New Orleans was where Jessie Bollier lived, and was the place where he was captured on that dark January evening. Jessie then found himself aboard The Moonlight, the slaver with its towering sails and masts, cabins and storage space under the deck. These were places where Jessie had to 'dance the slaves' and where the captain and crew would spend many weeks living in fear of the slaves, of each other, and of getting caught. In the Bight of Benin, on the rugged coasts of Africa, where the multitudes of slaves were captured and mistreated. The crew then made their way across the Atlantic once again to land in the Gulf of Mexico. The Moonlight was anchored there and stayed because it was here where the ship submerged. Two of the survivors washed up on the shores of Mississippi, who were Jessie and Ras meet Daniel, their soon to be friend. Ras was a slave Jessie befriended while on the ship. The Slave Dancer is written through Jessie's eyes, and projects a depressing, melancholy mood. It is the tragic song of the slaves and the mistreatment of Jessie and the slaves.

The hero of the story is the thirteen year old boy, Jessie Bollier. "He's a fearful runt," comments Captain Cawthorne. He is brought on board the slaver to make the slaves dance, to keep them healthy. Jessie innocent and does not fully understand his purpose. "My life had turned upside down. My friend was a man who pressganged me. I disliked the man who befriended me." Jessie does not realize what is going on within him. He does not realize that these men, these women, and children are slaves...are owned. He does not perceive the cruel treatment of the slaves, but does not know why. Jessie himself puts it best, "My stomach rebelled." The antagonist is surprisingly Jessie, but after the voyage. He went through many changes after the excursion. "At first, I made a promise to myself: I would do nothing that was connected with the use of slaves...but everything I considered bore the imprint of black hands." In the war between the states Jessie fought for the Union. He moved to Rhode Island and began a new life. However, he could never forget his horrible past. He was in continual search for his slave friend, Ras, wherever he made his way. He had matured in a way all of us should look up to. He matured in the light of love, strength, wisdom, and loyalty to his heart and to peace.

There were various secondary characters in The Slave Dancer because there were so many important roles. Captain Cawthorne, the captain of The Moonlight, was a short, very moody, very ambitious man. He was respected-a fine seaman. The captain's purpose was to guide the ship to Africa, and trade rum, tobacco, and other items in exchange for slaves. he was then to bring them to Mexico to sell to the Spanish and return to Charleston without getting caught. It is known that the captain must have a first mate. In this case it was the lucky Nicholas Spark. He kept to the captains side like a shadow. Spark was a very thin man with a "paper voice." Nicholas got into a fight with a black slave while aboard the ship and shot him. The captain was furious, so he dropped Spark into the deep waters below. There was Adolph Curry who's main reason for traveling on the ship was to cook. Jessie described him as,"...a terribly thin man. His skin was the color of suet except for uneven patches of salmon along the prominent ridges of his cheekbones." Another member of the crew was Ned Grime who was older than the other men. Ned was a carpenter and somewhat a doctor. Grime talked as if he had nothing to do with the trading of the slaves, yet he was paid the same amount as the rest of the men on the slaver. Ned once said, "My heart's not in it." Claudis Sharkey was the man who