From Can to Can't
They worked, in a manner of speaking, from can to can't, from the time they could see until the time they couldn't. They do about the same thing now.
As the testimony of experience, not opinion, the slave narratives re-create the actual conditions of slavery as distinct from the romantic conception of the plantation tradition, which still survives in life and literature. The basic assumptions of this tradition—Negro inferiority, dependence, and content— have given us the pleasantly picturesque stereotypes of Uncle Tom and Uncle Remus and the not so pleasant or picturesque ethics of Jim Crow. Traces of the slave's traditional attitude of respect and "easy-going trustfulness" are reflected in the narratives as part of the pattern of slavery which Charles S. Johnson has called the "shadow of the plantation" and which has been kept alive in the rural South through a vicious circle of cultural isolation and economic depression. Moreover, certain narrators (usually house servants) are moved by feelings of genuine loyalty and affection toward a kind master or mistress. But, except for these survivals and regressions, there is no attempt here to gloss over the physical and mental effects of slavery, as in the sentimental distortions and cheap caricatures of fiction, the stage, and popular song. Instead, the slave emerges as an individual rather than a type, a person rather than a symbol, with normal sensibilities and intelligence, portrayed as only the Negro can portray his own kind.
"To take in, or to understand the exact social status of such a people in all its bearings," wrote the publisher in his preface to an 1890 reprint of Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, "we can pursue no better course than to live among them, to become for a time one of them, to fall from a condition of freedom to one of bondage, to feel the scourge, to bear the marks of the brands, and the outrage of manacles." The privations, penalties, and punishments, as well as the occasional favors, privileges, and rewards, were part of an elaborate