“A life without books, is not a life at all …”
A couple of days ago, I finished reading “The Kitchen House.” I did not read the sequence in order. But I started with “Glory Over Everything” which is part two.
This first novel, “The Kitchen House” tells the story of the families, both black and white, slave and free, that eventually begat, Jamie Pyke, nee James Burton. This books tells the history of the slave quarters which were part of the larger plantation site. Reading out of order, defeated the purpose of reading.
The notions of person hood, whether, black or white, slave or free, is fraught with complications. When you mix white human beings, into a black familial groups is problematic.
The divide between white privilege and black slavery is blurred with the mixing of the races, back in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. The slave population is regarded with little respect from the white men, but they are a proud people who love each other and have definite worth in the grand scheme of things. But the relations between the white women and the slave families is a bit less harsh and unfeeling.
We read the evolution of that family unit, a white woman, introduced to life among slaves at this Virginia plantation, and what happens to them, as the story unfolds. A slave, in the vernacular, is there to serve a household. And the kitchen house, is where the slaves live while serving the Big House.
The white men, use and abuse their servant slaves, with impunity. The black women suffer the indignity of rape, however, we never see the word “rape” used in the book, but that is exactly what is happening. The women serve, as sexual objects, all the while serving the same white folk, in the Big House.
Whether their babies are viable and lives is not a concern of their white overlords.
At first we find a white woman (Lavinia) is introduced to a black family, later in the book, it is the white men who are having affairs with black women, all along being married to upper class white women.
Jamie Pyke, is a (white) child who results from the union of a white man and a black slave. In the second book, Glory Over Everything, Jamie has run away from home, because he carries a secret, a secret of patricide. The other secret is that he is of mixed race, a mulatto mother and a white father. A secret that will either kill him, or make him a better man.
That white father (Marshall), marries the white woman (Lavinia), and elevates her out of slavery, and he rapes Belle, a black slave. Once the baby comes, he denigrates the mother and all but abuses his son, who, at the end of the story takes matters into his own hands.
There are taboos in this society. White men involved with black women, and the progeny produced. Children born of mixed race parents is problematic for their survival in society. Mixed race children bear the stigma of that parentage and could cost them their livelihoods and their lives.
The whole intermingling of the races, in both books is a very rough story line, as the author admits at the end of the book. She did not intend to tell that dark side of the story, but as it fleshed out, it became apparent that she would have to tell the more unsavory stories to complete the write process.
At one point, the white woman (Lavinia), living inside the black experience, meets a white man (Marshall), who marries her and elevates her out of slavery, into being fully white and privileged, the dynamic of personal relations is turned on its head, when the tables are turned and the black – white woman, has to learn that she is now better by marriage than the woman she was a short while ago. And the slaves she lived with and loved, are no longer family, but merely servants, who have a lower status in the grand scheme of things, and this is an honest torment.
Marshall is not a good boy, and grows into an even worse man, racially, and personally. His mistreatment of human beings and his rampant alcoholism do take a toll on him in the end.
White men, in this story, have no scruples when it comes to sexual exploitation of children and women, and their are no repercussions for their choices.
Until that fateful night when Jamie Pyke, takes matters into his own hands.
Which leads directly into the second book, “Glory Over Everything.”