“The Earth Was Groaning and Shaking”
In questioning the slave “logic” that attempts to convert the living person into “socially dead” property, the political concerns of nineteenth-century slave narratives overlap with gothic concerns about the slippage between human and nonhuman. Yet by emphasizing the physically violated enslaved body, the slave narrative threatens to convert the individual into pure embodiment. Although the West Indian slave Mary Prince lived with a visible, permanent disability, her narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831) works to deflect focus off her body and onto the conditions that enable the violation of all bodies that populate American slave societies. Prince instead emphasizes natural and physical disasters that afflict the Caribbean islands and bodies as environmental forces beyond the control of even her white owners. This emphasis portrays slavery as an environment that exposes the physical and material vulnerability of all bodies who inhabit its landscapes. If, as David Del Principle writes, the ecogothic “examines the construction of the Gothic body” to ask “how it can be more meaningfully understood as a site of articulation for environmental and species identity,” Prince reformulates the slave narrative’s emphasis on the violated slave body by situating this violation within a physical environment of instability, unpredictability, and collapse. In this way, the ecogothic paradigm conceives of both the body and the environment as victims of slavery. Furthermore, to expand Del Principle’s definition, the ecogothic reveals slavery to be an unsustainable environment that threatens both the “alive” and the “socially dead” and that belies the system of domination and control in which slavery in the Americas was rooted.