Queen by Alex Haley
And yet another installment of Deep Thoughts From Damp Tresses brings us Haley's "other" book, Queen. My review of this book comes to you via another conversation with BearAllen's resident Slavery/Civil War/Regency/Sewing/General Snarkery Expert, The Hot Mess from Hot Mess, More or Less.
Let's just say, at the end of this book, tears were shed... followed by the desire to read something light. This is the one time that I feel that I wouldn't be faulted for picking up a copy of Twilight. BearAllen: Dude... I know it's later in the book, but I just CAN'T get over Mrs. Benson! TheHotMess: I know, BearAllen. Mrs Benson scared the shit out of me at 14 and now. Crazy lady has a baby of her own that's the same age and thinks nothing of snatching Queen's kid away and pretty much not caring what her skeevy ass husband does with him. BearAllen: Mrs. Benson is a scaaaaary kind of evil Like the most evil thing the devil made you believe is that he doesn't exist... that type of scary. It really bummed me out... it's naiveté, I know. But I was all happy when she asked Queen to sit down and have lunch with her. I thought FINALLY... and then... that happened TheHotMess: I know!! And dude, can we talk about baby daddy for a minute? BearAllen: Davis. I was so torn about Davis. TheHotMess: "I don't want babies and I don't want to get married but I'm gonna mess with this poor girl with no family who has been pretty much abandoned or rejected by the people who should love her and not expect her to want to get married and have babies." Troll . BearAllen: In one respect, I understand what he did... he thought he was making a better world for his son to grow up in. But... maybe don't CREATE that baby in the first place, no matter how much Queen wants it. TheHotMess: And then I'm gonna get in line to abandon and reject her because that will be cool. And those little old crazy ladies. BearAllen: YUP! Instead I'm just going to keep proving to her that she is not worth anything and has absolutely no place in this world. TheHotMess: "I like black people as long as they live by my standards because God knows they can't be trusted to conduct themselves decently" BearAllen: And I will say, I think having a kid of my own now gave me heart palpitations reading about how easily people thought they had the rights to someone's child simply because they were black. Like the sisters... just thinking they could keep Abner. Seriously... I was ENRAGED. And "well, we've decided that black people DO have souls... and it's our job to 'save' them. And they're only saved if they follow our boring ass version of religion" So basically... black people might have souls now, but they're just as entitled to managing their own souls as they were the rest of their lives. TheHotMess: Right? Because it's not real religion if you're black about it. I mean I just don't like being in church for 10 hours. That's my only complaint about black churches. I get hungry, yo! I found Queen particularly interesting because of the ease with which James Jackson ends up a slave owner. BearAllen: Exactly. It was amazing to me how easily people were convinced that slavery was actually to the benefit of the slaves. TheHotMess: He's appalled by the idea of slavery initially, then accepts it as the way the world works, and before you know it, he's hiring a douchey, sadistic overseer and shrugging his shoulders when his most trusted slave's wife is sold away from her baby. BearAllen: It's just more commentary on how people will accept the most heinous acts as long as they think it's a social norm. TheHotMess: And this is a man who has seen oppression up close and fought against it. BearAllen: I think it's almost WORSE if you ignore your gut like James did, as opposed to the people who went into slavery thinking that black people are basically just child-like animals that need to be managed with a firm hand. Those people, while completely horrible people, just don't know any better. James KNEW there was something wrong with slavery, knew the horrors of how these people were treated and how it affected them... and chose to push it back to the back of his mind because "that's just how it's done in the South". Gross. TheHotMess: Exactly. So he ends up raising a son who is messing with Easter, not even just for funsies but because he genuinely is close to her but that feeling doesn't change him any, doesn't go past Easter, doesn't go past her status as a slave. And then he brings home a wife who resents her and that relationship. BearAllen: It just keeps reminding you of the kind of crazy ass blinders people were able to put on so they could fit in with the rest of society. And I can't imagine feeling the way Jass did about Easter, and then allowing Queen to be treated like that... And the offer to pay her... it reminds me of that scene in Pretty Woman. "I NEVER made you feel like a prostitute..." "You just did" TheHotMess: Or Easter really. He didn't do much to improve her life either. At the end of the day, no matter how he felt about her, she had a place. BearAllen: Because Queen didn't FEEL like a slave until her father offered her the one thing a lot of the freed slaves were looking for--- payment. Because until that point, she thought she was family... pitching in like family does. TheHotMess: I did feel bad for Jass's wife a little though. Homegirl didn't have a lot of true prospects. Whatever ones she did have died on the vine while she was waiting for Jass. And by the time she realized the extent of Jass's disinterest, what was she going to do? BearAllen: And I know Jass thought he was giving her the niceties of "the big house", but taking Queen away from Easter when that's all she had?!?! And in the end, yeah- Queen may have lived in a nice house... but she slept on a pallet at the end of William's bed. She was your "real (meaning: WHITE)" children's bitch. TheHotMess: At that point, Queen reminded me of a delusional teenager who only sees what she wants to. Now I don't blame her for that. But everyone tried to tell her she wasn't anything to those people and they never treated her like she was anything to them either. BearAllen: The only education she got was from Cap'n Jack. TheHotMess: Queen put that on herself. But of course she did because she didn't have a place on slave row either. So if you have no place and you're going to invent one for yourself, who among us is going to invent the lesser situation? BearAllen: Queen put that on herself, but I can't imagine how hard it is to reconcile "I look JUST like these people but I can never be treated as one of them because I have a few drops of black blood". That's what I never quite got before this book- how much harder it was for even black people who looked mostly white than it was for full black people during this time. TheHotMess: Right. I don't think Queen was able to reconcile that and there was no one to help her reconcile that either. BearAllen: Because at least if you were full black- you had a place. TheHotMess: You really need to read Cane River. BearAllen: It's on my list! TheHotMess: It's not as hard of a read as Queen. I promise. BearAllen: But after Queen, I definitely need a bit of a break. I was BAWLING at the end of Queen. I need something fun. TheHotMess: And it comes from the aspect of loving relationships between white men and black women. So it's something of a middle ground between Queen and Feast of All Saints but spans a wider time frame than FoAS BearAllen: I promise that I don't refuse to read books because they're emotionally tough. I know that me reading about it is the LEAST I can do seeing as some people EXPERIENCED the shit that's making me cry. But I need a bit of levity right now. What did you think of Miss Sally? Loving Queen as she did, but never being able to break out of the slave-master hierarchy? Part of me loves her for loving Queen. TheHotMess: Oh I know lol. I wasn't saying read it now, woman. NOW! Only that you should read it soon. I think you'd enjoy seeing the compare and contrast. BearAllen: But... that was all she was capable of? Loving her from afar and occasionally making sure she was taken care of. TheHotMess: American history tends to paint the black experience with one brush. Like this is how it was for blacks in the south, full.stop. When that's not the case at all. BearAllen: There are definitely nuances to that whole period in history that so many tend to ignore. TheHotMess: I think Miss Sally tried the best she could. I mean she was a largely marginalized character. Even as much as James loved her, he didn't really listen to her. BearAllen: True. TheHotMess: Also what I love about Cane River is that is shows the ups and downs of acceptance and such as the period progresses. BearAllen: I think out of everyone in that story (besides Easter herself, and maybe Alec), Miss Sally loved Queen best. And I'm not sure that Queen ever really realized the depths to which it ran. TheHotMess: Reconstruction is an incredibly interesting time in history. No, I don't think she did either. And I think Miss Sally and Queen had a better relationship than perhaps anyone else in the book. A more equal one. A more aware one, I guess. BearAllen: Agreed, 100%. And I think you're right about Lizzie... Her lot in life was pretty much crap. Jass finally deigned to marry her and she had resigned herself to accepting whatever came her way because she had no other prospects (tyvm, Jasshole! See what I did there?! Clever). And although I would've liked her to take Easter and Queen in and love them... how likely would we be (regardless of color) to accept the product of our husband's cheating into our home with open arms? It was just unfortunate for Queen that the time and society gave her some ammo with which to use against Queen. She always had the slave/nigra thing in her back pocket. TheHotMess: A lot of plantation wives would let the babies be sold. Or they'd put them out in the fields and tell the overseers to go extra hard on them. BearAllen: I'd like to believe that any person with half a heart would understand that it wasn't the baby's fault that she was born... Go hard on the mistress, fine (although most of those mistresses weren't willing participants)... TheHotMess: But I also wonder if being sold away wouldn't be better in that circumstance. Because at least if the master isn't your father, you're more likely to be accepted on slave row as just another slave.
BearAllen: Well, unless you look white like Queen. And then you're just with strangers ... but you still have no place in society TheHotMess: No, I think even looking white would have been okay if there's no one to single you out for special treatment. BearAllen: So, Easter-- sure. But Queen? It was the devil-you-know situation. TheHotMess: Until after slavery ended though. Once slavery ended, it's a different story and you can get the hell out and pass or stay home and make sure no one ever gets confused. BearAllen: True. So, I'm always interested in the rumors about how blacks were faring up North. TheHotMess: I really felt bad for Easter at that stupid wedding BearAllen: Was it just southerners trying to lend credence to their embracing of slavery? OH MAN! That made me so angry. It was the one stupid moment of sheer happiness in her life (that wasn't centered around Jass)... and that had to happen. History has painted the North as complete anti-slavery. But like in everything else- I'm sure there were PLENTY of people who thought slavery was just the bees knees and were pissed at Lincoln. TheHotMess: And then they blame it on her. Or who anti slavery but cool with bigotry. Which is why northern cities are so damned segregated even now. BearAllen: Yup. And are all smug about being anti-slavery, but are still talking about "niggers having no souls". TheHotMess: You can come up to Detroit, Chicago, Boston, etc, but you better stay on your side. Remember what happened when Jass went to college? BearAllen: YUP! Cap'n Jack's accommodations were FAR worse than anything he had as a slave in the south. TheHotMess: And now recently, more historians are doing research into how northern colleges, even Ivies behaved in the slavery era. We're talking presidents bringing a retinue of slaves with them to northern institutions where people are arguing against slavery from an academic standpoint but half their students are bringing a personal slave or four.