Summer's Reviews > Sapphira and the Slave Girl

Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
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's review
Sep 08, 2011

it was ok
Recommended for: persons interested in the history of slavery

Sapphira and the Slave Girl takes place in the slave-holding south, in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. Sapphira is the mistress of a number of slaves. In recent years, she has also become an invalid. She and her daughter, Rachel, have a cold relationship because Rachel is strongly against slavery. Sapphira is particularly abusive to one slave, Nancy, a young mulatto girl whom Sapphira suspects is sleeping with her husband. When Martin, the lecherous nephew comes to visit, he pursues Nancy aggressively and terrorizes her with the threat of rape. Sapphira turns the other way, but her daughter can't...
Although the story itself is engrossing, I gave this book two stars because I found the author's intent confusing. I was left not knowing what viewpoint Cather wanted to convey, and this frustrated me. For instance, all through the book Henry Colbert, Sapphira's husband, is coldly removed from her. He even sleeps in the Mill House where he works all day. He questions the morality of slavery constantly, he is severely uncomfortable with it. But in a scene with Sapphira at the end, he tells her adamantly, "There are different ways of being good to folks...sometimes keeping people in their place is being good to them." What??? This contradicts everything we are led to believe about his character, with no real explanation for the "switch."
I enjoy discovering an author's unique viewpoint, and feel frustrated when I can't grasp a solid idea or philosophy from a book.

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