When mesmerism first came to this hemisphere by way of St. Domingue, a complex association between radical abolition and the new science was born. Harriet Beecher Stowe takes up that association in her second abolitionist novel Dred. In so doing she charts an emergent trauma theory developing among slaves that deliberately focused on perpetrators rather than victims of New World slavery. Such a reading widens our understanding of early trauma theory by making visible the tension between Stowe’s sentimental strategy famously inscribed in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and her adaptation of theories by thinkers like Frederick Douglass. If the first strategy depends on familiar but discrete bonds of sympathy between her reader and slaves like Uncle Tom, the second involves recognition of uncontained levels of fear compulsively linking emancipation with slave insurrection. The title Dred deliberately puns on that fear, working to undo what Brian Massumi has called its “preemptive logic.”

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