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Chapter 3: Women, Slavery, and Loving Relationships

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

Four generations ago, at the time of our great-great-grandparents, slavery was abolished. The Act of Emancipation abolishing slavery was passed in 1834. By the time my great-great-grandmother was born in the 1860s the Slave Trade was over.

Although women of my great-great-grandmother’s generation were free, to quote Baby Suggs from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, “Freeing your self was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another” (1987: 95).

It was not easy for slaves to form loving relationships, but miraculously they did—both with each other, with former slaves who bought their freedom, and sometimes with slave owners. It was an environment of fear and of exhausted bodies and souls. Fear and exhaustion interfere with desire, but slaves nevertheless loved each other, made love, married in secret, had children and sometimes succeeded against all the odds to have families.

Other slaves were too traumatized by their experiences over generations to be able to love well. As we know from other more recent experiences of trauma, for example the Jewish Holocaust, some people were able to retain their humanity and others were not. Primo Levi describes this in The Drowned and the Saved:

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10. On 'Struggle'

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

The term ‘struggle’ is very much a part of the vocabulary of British Caribbean people. Although there are many social, political, and personal definitions of ‘struggle’, for the most part it is understood as referring to something which occurs between the individual and his or her outside world.

To my mind, ‘struggle’ is best understood as the refusal of a non-frustrating object—that is, as the rejection, by a person, of any object which might provide that person with satisfaction. In other words, ‘to struggle’ is to set oneself wilfully in direct opposition to ease and freedom. The circumstances which can lead a person to reject what might otherwise provide them with satisfaction will differ in each case. In my opinion, however, emotional deprivation, coupled with severe frustration from the external world, seem to be at the heart of all forms of struggle.

Because the person engaged in struggle chooses to reject satisfaction, this leads to a characteristic attitude of ‘acceptance’ of suffering and distress. During slavery, for instance, this ‘acceptance’ of suffering, this determination to struggle, was adopted with the simple aim of survival.

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5. On a Male Baby's Earliest Vicissitudes

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

Much of Galton Flood’s fictional babyhood is not made available to us. However, in this chapter I shall present more detailed observations on what passes between a young male baby and his parents—in particular his mother—by referring to actual case material. I hope to demonstrate the ways in which the child sometimes learns fear from his parents, and the ways in which this makes it difficult for him to resolve the Oedipus complex.

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Baby G was born in the United Kingdom. His mother emigrated to the UK when she was eleven-years-old, in order to rejoin her mother after some years of separation. During this time Baby G’s mother had been cared for by a maternal aunt and grandmother. My understanding of the situation is that there were no men actively involved in her care, and that Baby G’s grandmother had migrated to the UK entirely on her own.

Baby G’s mother became pregnant for the first time during her teens. The father of this first child wanted to marry her. She refused this offer and eventually he married another woman, but he maintained an interest in their child, Baby G’s half-brother. He also provided some voluntary financial support, and their son went to him for regular weekend visits.

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Chapter 4: Slavery, the Story of Oedipus, and the Oedipus Complex

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

Although the reign of slavery in the British Caribbean and the USA ended in the Nineteenth Century it still continues to affect people internally in this century. In this chapter I will use what psychoanalysis offers us, to think about what has happened to people as a consequence of the traumatic past experiences. Cruelty altered the workings of the mind and this is visible today in the new, restructured family that is to be found in the Caribbean and elsewhere where people have descended from slaves. This did not come about by magic. A specific path has led to the dominant type of Caribbean family.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Sigmund Freud, who happened to be Jewish and was himself acquainted with trauma (his ancestors had fled repeatedly from persecution, as he was destined to also) had put together a science of unconscious mental processes which came to be known as psychoanalysis.

Important among his discoveries were: (1) that dreams had a meaning, which could be deciphered; and (2) that every child in the course of his or her development comes upon what he named “the Oedipus Complex”. Freud argued that the Oedipus Complex was universal, but there were various paths to the resolution of it. Both these discoveries were presented in his book The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a) and were returned to repeatedly throughout his other writings.

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Chapter 6: The Sent-Away Child and the Isolated Adult

Barbara Fletchman Smith Karnac Books ePub

The quality of an adult’s life can be defined by the childhood experience of being sent away. A feeling of being stuck with damage comes about when an individual holds on to hurt and grievance, as we saw in the previous chapter. This was also the case with Ms Carter and with Mr Douglas. She was in her fifties and he had just turned fifty.

The practice of sending children away is very old and very damaging. It is done in many parts of the world, supposedly for the child’s benefit. Sometimes children meet their deaths as a result of cruel treatment, as in the widely reported Victoria Climbié case and the cases of British children sent abroad to Australia. Mostly children suffer quietly in isolation from family and friends. Separating children from their parents was done regularly at the very beginning of the modern Caribbean, centuries ago. The misery of it is evoked in the negro spiritual: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child—a long way from home”.

I saw Ms Carter for a consultation. She presented with heaviness and pain and gave the impression that the life had gone out of her. She was neatly and sensibly dressed in dark warm clothing and wore her hair naturally in a short neat style. She was a little hesitant about starting to speak, and I felt I was being eyed with suspicion. She told me that it was not easy for her to speak about herself.

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