Paper questions on William Wells Brown, "Clotel; or the President's Daughter"
Here are some paper questions relating to William Wells Brown's Clotel or The President's Daughter, or in some cases, the appended comments. By the way, your reading of the novel will be greatly facilitated and enriched by first reading up on the Sally Hemings-Thomas Jefferson controversy, which is best done on the Monticello web site:
- What liberties did Williams Wells Brown take in fictionalizing the story of Thomas Jefferson and the Hemings family? What elements seem to come from Brown's own life and from the political purposes of the book?
- Clotel is generally considered the first known novel by an African American. Review and analyze it in that context. How did Brown's book reflect the experience and concerns of his generation of African Americans?
- Compare and contrast Clotel with another more popular early American novel: Susanna Rowson's Charlotte Temple or Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.
- Analyze Clotel as a contribution to the abolitionists' political campaign against slavery. What particular abolitionist themes, arguments, and tactics does the book embrace, and which ones does it reject?
- Drawing on the rest of the course materials and the documents included with Clotel, give your own reasoned and well-documented view of Thomas Jefferson's place in American history. Does Jefferson deserve his reputation as a hero in the cause of liberty, was he a fraud who should be removed from our national pedestal, or somewhere in between?
- Taking Frederick Douglass's speech "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" (beginning on page 253 of "Clotel") as your starting point, think about how you would explain early U.S. history (1774-1860) to an African American child. Was Douglass's approach the best and most accurate way for African Americans to think of this period? Why or why not? What alternatives would you suggest?