Insight into the Depths of a Slave’s Journey

An archetype is “a typical character, an action or a situation that seems to represent such universal patterns of human nature” (“Examples and Definition of Archetype”). As I read the second-third section of The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, I noticed many different archetypal characters, symbols and shapes that Hill used which gave me a better and deeper understanding to not only Aminata’s journey, but also to how some of the other characters and events that occurred in her life influenced how her journey came to be.

One of things I noticed was the archetypical character of the Great Mother that Dolly represents. The great mother is defined as “the personification of the feminine and represents the fertile womb of which all life comes and the darkness of the grave to which it returns. It’s fundamental attribute is the capacity to nourish” (New World Encyclopedia). After arriving at the Lindos, Dolly took Aminata to the market where “she usually got her vegetables and spices from a Negro who sat alone on a stump that he hauled to the market every day on his cart” (Hill 220). She taught Aminata all of her daily routines to perform for the Lindos and allowed her to learn her away around Charles Town (Hill 225). Dolly is also seen playing the nurturing mother role when she comforts Aminata while she is crying over not seeing her husband Chekura in a long time (Hill 236).  Aminata even states after Dolly is killed from smallpox, “she had fussed over me like a mother, cooking my meals and cleaning my clothes . . .” (Hill 243). I believe that Dolly represents this nurturing mother role to Aminata by teaching her the ways of her new owners so that she can adapt to her new life change and also by providing emotional support as well as meals and cleaning her clothes.

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins.

When I was a child, my favourite childhood movie was Mary Poppins which I feel Dolly’s character relates to. Mary Poppins and Dolly both represent this great mother role in each of their stories. Mary teaches the children simple things such as cleaning their rooms or listening to what they are told (“Mary Poppins (film)”. She also provides comfort to them when they are upset over not being able to spend time with their father (Mary Poppins (film)”). She provides the nourishment they need to learn valuable life lessons and find a way to connect with their father again so they can be one big happy family. This is similar to Dolly who continuously provides support to Aminata and is there for her when she is upset but also when she is new and does not yet know how the life with her new owner works. I think this relationship shows that Dolly came into Aminata’s life to provide support and life lessons that will benefit Aminata in her journey to come, just as Mary provided support to the kids so that they can learn to change their ways and rekindle the relationship with their father so they may be a happy family again.

The sea.

I also came across some archetypical symbols that the novel reveals that really stuck out to me. The sea archetype represents death and/or rebirth as well as eternity (“Examples of Archetypes, Literature”). Aminata notes “ . . . it was every person who had been tossed into the unforgiving sea on the endless journey across the big river” (Hill 289). I believe this is where the sea represents death because of the countless Africans that were relentlessly thrown overboard into the sea off of the slave ship resulting in their deaths. When I look out at a sea, it seems to carry on forever showing the deaths and horrors the Africans faced will be recognized for eternity because of the sea that is now their forgotten tombstones. Amidst all of the dead bodies the sea holds, Chekura tells Aminata after finally being reunited and before sailing to Nova Scotia together, “I had a fever the whole time at sea, but I couldn’t stop thinking of you” (Hill 337-338). The sea seems to have brought Chekura back to Aminata which I believe shows the rebirth of their love and a new life together as they travel to Canada for their freedom. To me, it also shows that no matter how little they saw each other over so many years of captivity apart, their love still remained and will continue for eternity.

Circle of unity.

Another symbol I recognized was the circle archetype. The circle represents unity and eternity (“Examples of Archetypes”). Aminata runs from Solomon Lindo into a forest where she notes hearing “ . . . a small group of Negroes chanting African songs. It was no language that I knew, but it was from my homeland, deep and threaded with longing. The people had formed a circle, and they danced as I had seen before . . .” (Hill 288). I think this group of her homelanders shows where she belongs and the eternal love and pain shared between each of them. They have all gone through similar things as Aminata and this circle shows they still have not strayed from who they really are and the bond that connects them will last forever.

Stages of the hero’s journey.

Aminata’s journey aligns fairly well with the archetypal hero’s journey in my opinion because the stages of her journey run consistent to the stages of the hero’s journey. In the beginning of the novel, I am described Aminata’s childhood where she is learning from her mother how to write and read two different African languages as well as being taught how to catch babies and “how to reach inside a woman – after coating my hand with warm oil – and to touch in the right spot to tell if the door was suitably wide” (Hill 19). I also learn that she is a “freeborn Muslim” so she believes she is safe (Hill 17). This relates to the ordinary world stage where the hero feels safe and is oblivious of the adventure to come (Bronzite). She then passes the call to adventure stage where the hero receives his/her call to action (Bronzite), when she is on her way home from catching a baby with her mom, a group of men stop them and attack them leaving Aminata’s mother dead and Aminata a new captive to the men (Hill 29-31). Although Aminata does not want to endure this journey at all, I believe her refusal to the call stage occurs when they finally reach England and risks a beating twice, first when they are held in a barricade and she does not want to eat or drink and second when she reaches Appleby’s plantation and refuses to spread her legs for him (Hill). This plantation leads to Aminata meeting Georgia who teaches her English and helps to nurse her back to health. She teaches her how to speak to the whites to avoid beatings and the proper way to perform the tasks the slaveowners want completed (Hill). This shows how Aminata has now met her mentor who taught her very useful skills so she can carry on in her journey (Bronzite). This leads right into the crossing the threshold into the unfamiliar world where the hero’s journey really begins (Bronzite). This is seen when Aminata finally accepts she has no choice but to do as she is told or else die so she harvests indigo, catches babies with Georgia and speaks to the slaveowners in just the right way (Hill). Throughout the story, Aminata is introduced to many new people such as the Lindos, Sam Fraunces, Claybourne, Dolly and Colonel Baker (Hill). This is the stage where the hero tests his/her allies where it was easy for me to see the people Aminata can trust and those that she cannot (Bronzite). Lastly, Aminata decides with the help of Sam to escape her new owner Solomon Lindo while in New York City which she notes “I felt paralyzed. What was I to do alone in the woods” (Hill 285). This relates to the approach to the inmost cave in the hero’s journey which lies some danger and causes the hero to have fears of what can happen during the road ahead (Bronzite).

At the end of this section of the novel, it is shown that Aminata is just entering the ordeal stage where she will face a life or death situation (Bronzite). This is seen as she is getting ready to board the ship that will be sending her to her freedom in Canada (Hill 350). This leads me to believe that something may happen to the ship before it reaches Canada and she may be stranded out at sea or maybe when she reaches Canada there will be an angry slaveholder or a British officer that turns on Aminata and does not grant her freedom and brutally tortures her. During the resurrection stage, I can predict that Aminata and several other negroes that were shipped to Canada may gather as many people and weapons as they can and cause a huge fight with the British for their freedom that could cause Aminata to get severely hurt and nearly die (Bronzite). During the return with the elixir stage, I believe a group of abolitionists will rescue Aminata and liberate her so that she can work with them to share her story and help end the slave trade or even slavery altogether once and for all (Bronzite).

The archetypes used within this first section of the novel have given me plenty of insight for what is to come in the last section of the novel and make some very strong predictions. They have also allowed me to better connect with the author as he writes Aminata’s journey because the symbols and people throughout it have a much bigger meaning than just what meets the eye. I am very excited to see what comes next in the novel and to see how these archetypes allow Aminata’s journey to come to an ending where Aminata is given a better life.


Works Cited

“Archetype – Examples and Definition of Archetype.” Literary Devices. Literary Devices, 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

Bronzite, Dan. “The Hero’s Journey – Mythic Structure of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth.” Movie Outline – Screenwriting Software. Nuvotech Limited, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

“Examples of Archetypes.” General Examples of Archetypes. Bill Stifler, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

“Examples of Archetypes, Literature.” Archetypes in Literature. Deborah Rudd, 27 Jan. 1997. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Toronto: Harper Collins, 2007. Print.

“Mary Poppins (film).” Disney Wiki. Fandom, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

New World Encyclopedia. “Archetype.” Archetype – New World Encyclopedia. MediaWiki, 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.



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