William Wells Brown’s Clotel; or, the President’s Daughter Life Before and After Slavery

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William Wells Brown was a former slave who eventually was able to escape to freedom and live the remainder of his life as a free man, writer, and lecturer. Brown’s novel Clotel is known as the first novel to be written by an African American and ex-slave. His novel focuses on three different generations of slave women including the main character Clotel, a mulatto woman, and her sisters. Clotel’s mother is a slave woman and her father is the nation’s president, Thomas Jefferson. Brown’s novel is assumed to be based on the unconfirmed rumors that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings (Kirkpatrick, 2004). These rumors were very relevant at the time that Brown wrote his novel. It seems that Brown was even ahead of his time in questioning the actions of President Jefferson because the DNA confirmation behind these rumors was not provided until years later. One of the strong motifs throughout this novel is hypocrisy. The fact that Thomas Jefferson, one of the writers of the Declaration of Independence, who fights for freedom and equality for all, would allow his biological daughter to be put up and sold at auction just shows the great deal of hypocrisy during the time of slavery. Brown’s novel also focuses on the tragedies and struggles experienced by mulatto men and women in slavery. Brown used his first hand experiences to create the fictional characters in Clotel which would provide a sense of the suffering endured by slaves while in captivity. Through his first-hand experience in the world of slavery, Brown provides a vivid picture of what life was like as a slave woman on the plantation. Although the novel is fictional, Brown’s use of real memories, events, and news stories from his time as a slave provides a realistic look into the pain and suffering endured by slaves at this time. Brown also included opposing views of

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