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Written by Timothy Sexton
When it is said that it was done to please a woman, there ought perhaps to be enough said to explain anything; for what a man will not do to please a woman is yet to be discovered.
A ruthlessly voracious tone of irony that pervades every moment of the reading of this story commences from this opening line. The mysteries of romance are laid out in simple terms and the philosophy will be proven true once again, but with the ironic caveat that truth is, most assuredly, not everything is appears to be.
When asked why he never did anything serious, Dick would good-naturedly reply, with a well-modulated drawl that he didn’t have to.
Dick’s rationale for not living a serious life during his youth is owed entirely to the fact that his father owns a very successful plantation. Of course, when your labor force is comprised of slaves, it is rather difficult not to be a successful plantation owner. And this is perhaps what Dick was counting on during his misspent youth.
…all Dick required, in fact, to prompt him to the most remarkable thing he accomplished before he was twenty-five, was a mere suggestion from Charity Lomax.
Shortly after learning of Dick’s lack of seriousness, the author introduces the turn of events upon which his opening philosophical assertion will be judged to have or lack merit. What will Dick do to please Charity Lomax and, more to the point, what will he not be willing to do? And even more to the point: will what he does or decides not to do transform him into a more serious adult?
“I’ll never love you, Dick Owens, until you have done something. When that time comes, I’ll think about it.”
The gauntlet has been thrown and from this point forward there is no turning back for Dick who has finally found in the words of his beloved a reason for finally doing something serious.
“I should just like to know, Grandison, whether you don’t think yourself a great deal better off than those poor free negroes down by the plank road, with no kind master to look after them and no mistress to give them medicine when they’re sick and—“
Now, even the most legitimately brain-damaged of individuals would never think to ask this question of a slave. Nobody on earth really needs an answer to that question. Except, perhaps, for those raised under the specter of legalized slavery who naturally assume a sense of superiority over those they hold in bondage. But even they should never ask the question on the assumption that any answer is bound to be less than honest.
“Well, I sh’d jes’ reckon I is better off, suh, dan dem low-down free niggers, suh! Ef anybody ax ’em who dey b’long ter, dey has ter say nobody, er e’se lie erbout it. Anybody ax me who I b’longs ter, I ain’ got no ’casion ter be shame’ ter tell ’em, no, suh, ’deed I ain’, suh!”
There is a very clearly a superior intelligence in this dialogue, but Col. Owens only compounds his inferiority by being the only one who can’t recognize that he is not the one in possession of it. Grandison’s dialect-laden eloquence is an example of what gives the story its title. The slave is passing himself as inferior to his owner because that recurring humiliation is his only key to ever enjoying freedom.
DEAR FRIEND AND BROTHER:—
A wicked slaveholder from Kentucky, stopping at the Revere House, has dared to insult the liberty-loving people of Boston by bringing his slave into their midst. Shall this be tolerated? Or shall steps be taken in the name of liberty to rescue a fellow-man from bondage? For obvious reasons I can only sign myself,
A FRIEND OF HUMANITY.
Dick’s grand plan to impress Charity is rather complicated and involves taking Grandison out of the slave-holding legal environs of the South and into the free-states of the North and “accidentally” emancipating him. The already thick irony of the story only grows more so with this anonymous letter sent as part of his plan to several known abolitionists.
As for Charity Lomax, Dick told her, privately of course, that he had run his father’s man, Grandison, off to Canada, and left him there.
Dick finally does manage to rid himself of a seemingly unwilling partner in his bid to give Grandison his freedom and returns home to triumphantly reveal his heroism—to Charity, at least. The story told to his father differs somewhat in the details and a great bit in the tone.
“Oh, Dick, what have you done? If they knew it they’d send you to the penitentiary, like they did that Yankee. But I presume I’ll have to marry you if only to take care of you. You are too reckless for anything and a man who goes chasing all over the North, being entertained by New York and Bos-ton society and having negroes to throw away, needs someone to look after him.”
Surprisingly, Charity’s response is not the ironic highlight of the story nor is her unexpected—by Dick anyway—lack of appreciation for the magnitude of his serious deed the climax. But it seems a far better choice to leave things here and allow the reader to fully bask in the wonderfully satisfying display of irony with which the story concludes.
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