PSV– (the child shall follow the condition of the mother) was “the first statutory provision on status [to be] adopted by Virginia in 1662: ‘all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only on the condition of the mother'” (Morris 43). This, in distinction to English common law concerning bastardy which maintained that it was the father who determined the status of children.
Incidents is not historiography. Nor is it fiction, though certain of its elements have been fictionalized– such as names– and other of its details suppressed. Yet like both history- and fiction-writing, Incidents depends for its power on narrative conventions– the use of formal literary elements. One distinction we can make immediately is the difference between story and plot. The story is ‘what happened.’ The plot is the order of those events. We should pay attention to the overall structure of the text, particularly those points when HJ deviates from a straight chronological account. What happens at these moments in the text? What is their content and their function?
We can use the basic vocabulary of literary criticism to assess Incidents (ex. plot, character, setting). We can play close attention to apparent gaps in the text. What is not mentioned? What questions does the text leave unanswered?
Today’s group assignment:
There are 41 chapters in this text. Groups will take 6 chapters each. They will produce a thumbnail synopsis of their chapters, noting deviations from strict linear chronology. In the process the groups should think about the formal elements used to create HJ/LB as an autobiographical subject and how this textually-created personal identity is connected to a larger, more collective identity. Were does the text position its readers? HJ’s view is fundamentally subjective, yet there are places in the text where a wider view, one that extends beyond her immediate perceptions, is engaged. Think about themes, repeated phrases, patterns, and gaps.