Post-Civil War cultural history is incomplete if it fails to take account of the one-sided delineations of African and African American character in books for the young. Occasionally in postbellum children’s fiction there is a return to antebellum ambivalence about Black personality (e.g., in the protest fiction of Martha Finley when she is addressing the Ku Klux Klan problem or in the social satires of Mark Twain when he uses the slavery era as his setting). However, in the many plantation tales and adventure stories, there is seldom a thematic counterbalance to the depiction of a race hierarchy. Even in the protest novels and satires, a conviction of Black inferiority is embodied in the narratives through a one-sided treatment of slave and ex-slave characterization.
The irony in this handling of the Black image is readily apparent. The evil of slavery—the dehumanization of human beings—became the symbolic center of the war, yet dehumanization is now to be continued in a new guise. Either serfdom or imperial domination are hailed in the postbellum children’s literature as entirely proper. In fact, slavery itself is to be refashioned as a benign (even blissful) lifestyle, as a life of constructive tutelage. Slavery was created by “the hand of an All-wise Providence,” writes Joel Chandler Harris, and its design was “the scheme of a vast university….” 1
Authors of postbellum children’s literature saw no need to call attention to forced labor, as such, and its anomalous character in a democracy. In books about Blacks, the focus was on personality and what was perceived as an implicit distance between European Americans and Blacks. Africans and African Americans were depicted as moved by instinct rather than logic, as prone to imitate rather than