Canada's Reputation and Emigration in Early American Slave Narratives
AffiliationUniversity of Southern Indiana
TitleCanada's Reputation and Emigration in Early American Slave Narratives
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Canada regularly makes appearances in the literature, news, and even the popular culture of the United States (U.S.). Canada appears in Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), it plays an even larger role in Hulu’s television adaptation of Atwood’s novel, it appears in episodes of The Daily Show, and in other media readily consumed by the American public.
Being one of only two countries to share a border with the United States, it is easy to recognize why references to Canada appear sporadically in narratives written about the United States. By exploring American Literature specifically, Americans’ varying attitudes toward its northern neighbor are apparent. The reputation of Canada is depicted both positively and negatively. One example is how early American literary narratives, especially slave narratives, depict Canada as the North Star, the Promised Land, and the terminus of the Underground Railroad.
Canada’s influence and significance on the literary history of the U.S. – especially before, during, and immediately following the U.S. Civil War – is underestimated and sometimes disregarded. The ultimate purpose of this paper is to identify and examine these covert representations and illuminate the ways in which Canada became unofficially regarded as, and possibly remains to this day, a safe haven for fugitive slaves, immigrants, and outcasts of U.S. society.
I will use the history of the United States in conjunction with the texts Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriett Jacobs, Blake; or, the Huts of America by Martin R. Delany, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe to illustrate early Americans’ attitudes toward Canada and how these attitudes were formed. These texts will show how slaves were empowered and inspired by the mere existence of Canada. Themes of resistance, marronage, and identity aid in the formation of Canada’s reputation. Furthermore, I will show evidence that these attitudes and themes persist in American culture today.