Representations of the sexual abuse of enslaved women merit a specificity of analysis that has so far eluded scholars of American literature and culture. The definition of legal character in this context calls for further study. Stone addresses the peculiar legal conundrum in which enslaved women found themselves when suffering the abuse of slaveholders. These women's shifting legal subject-positions posed theoretical problems within this particular power relationship, as the boundary distinguishing the law's treatment of slaves as property and persons blurred. An enslaved woman's admittedly slender potential civil protection as property was eroded when her abuser was simultaneously her owner. This shift in her protections produced a rift in her legal subjectivity through which systems of terror could operate legitimately. Stone closely examines Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1865) in conjunction with the 1855 trial of Celia, an executed murderous slave, to compare specific literary and legal interpretations of North Carolina and Missouri slave law against a more general understanding of slaves' legal “double character” to argue that both women, through criminal acts, negotiated legal and literary conventions in their pursuit of legal subjectivity. Comparing a legal case and a literary text extends scholarship on literary treatments of antebellum crime to determine how both women challenged early American legal and cultural understandings of black criminality.
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Andrea Stone; Interracial Sexual Abuse and Legal Subjectivity in Antebellum Law and Literature. American Literature 1 March 2009; 81 (1): 65–92. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2008-051
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