From 1780-1781, a fugitive slave and Maroon leader known as "Three-Fingered Jack" terrorized the Jamaican plantocracy before being "ambushed and killed" by bounty hunters. Twenty years later, the figure of Three-fingered Jack was a household name and folk hero whose renown circulated London, the provinces, and the colonies through print texts and pantomime theatre. According to Diana Paton, these multiform adaptations provided an "important site for the formation of opinion about slavery, for British readers and theatre-goers." This paper analyzes one of Jack's earliest afterlives, Obi; Or, the History of Three Fingered-Jack (1800), an overtly abolitionist novel by William Earle, and examines the text's invocation of orality as a tool for representing difference. Building on cultural and historical work done by Srinivas Aravamudan, Frances Botkin, and Kelly Wisecup, as well as Paton, this paper takes a media turn to think about how Earle's novel represents the relations between speech and power, orality and print. In particular, it addresses the question of how the novel problematizes those relations by using structurally set apart forms like interpolated tales and footnotes. Primary attention will be paid to the enslaved mother Amri's interpolated tale, "Makro and Amri," and the friction created between her oral tale-telling and the epistolary novel that contains it. While "orality," within the print form of the novel, is always a fiction, this paper considers how Obi uses and interrogates the concept of orality as part of its effort to represent cultural and racial difference, a project that is simultaneously problematic and flagged as such by the novel's reliance on awkward and set-apart forms.


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pp. 289-312
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