Frado Taught a Naughty Ram: Animal and Human Natures in Our Nig
Abstract

Abstract:

Recent ecocriticism has begun to address African Americans' literary production, but nineteenth-century texts, including Harriet Wilson's Our Nig, continue to be neglected, even though Wilson scholarship gestures toward an obvious conclusion: Frado grows up in a toxic environment. Our Nig represents Frado's multiply outsidered position: a black, female, indentured, rural, and sometimes physically disabled child, she embodies a crushing matrix of disadvantage; thus the novel represents a tour-de-force analysis of synergistic prejudice. I argue that we can understand the novel as an environmental justice analysis and that Wilson's work suggests we need to think about environmental justice more expansively. This essay offers a preliminary ecocritical examination of Our Nig from several different positions that constellate around the heroine's embodiment. I examine Wilson's representation of Frado's physical labor in a farm environment and her relationship with animals, and I map the author's masterful analysis of multiple identity classifications that are sometimes self-reinforcing and at other times mutually deconstructing. My project also aims indirectly to ameliorate the urbanist bias that frames much contemporary literary criticism; thus, while the essay considers "representations," it frames them in the concrete, "natural," rural experience within which Frado, and Wilson herself, sought environmental justice.