Cover Art for Our Nig or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black

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Before I start explaining my reasoning behind my choice of cover art for Our Nig by Harriet E.Wilson, let me just start by acknowledging the obvious I know, the photo itself looks very up- to- date, recent- way more “2014” than “1859”, as we had discussed the time period of this piece in class. However, I still opted to choose a more modernized photo as my cover art, going off of the idea that when new editions of well- know and well- circulated books are published or released, many a time the cover art changes for the new release. The cover art tends be more “modernized” and relevant to the time period of the current audience of readers, a “fresh new look” made in what I feel is an attempt to help readers better relate to the subject matter in a work of literature. Such a technique would be especially useful in terms of Our Nig, being that my generation is, luckily, far removed from the slavery filled years of the past.

Nowadays, in a world of slimmer and sleeker phones and computers, minimalist home decor and simple, yet sophisticated “black and white” fashion trends, less is seen as more and makes a statement. You don’t need a whole lot to get your point across or get a desired effect. This particular photo, a white backdrop with a door leading into pitch black, says a lot about Our Nig without being over- complicated.

I chose this photo because it reminded me of the spark I made on 9/22/14 in which I chose the passage that read:

“You’s had a trial of while folks, any how.  They run off and left ye, and now none of  ’em come near ye to see if you’s dead or alive.  I’s black outside, I know, but I’s got a white heart inside. Which you rather have, a black heart in a white skin, or a white heart in a black one?”(Wilson, 12).

This passage, in which Jim express to Mag that although being a black man wishing to marry a white woman, he has what she would consider to be a “white” heart on the inside. In class, I discussed the idea of a “white heart” versus a “black heart”. The color white is often associated with goodness, purity and innocence. Black however, connotes evil and darkness, the unsafe and the unsure. Whites hearts in this instances, would be much better than black hearts. But Jim means it in a totally different way- hearts based on race and complexion rather than character. Though born with a black heart due to his African ancestry, he does just so happen to have a “white heart”, in that he is good and kind and wants to marry Mag because he has genuine affections for her, sees her suffering and struggling, and wishes to love and look after her. Mag, though a caucasian woman, turns out to be the one with the “black” heart, as the reader later on learns that she marries Jim not because she loves him, but strictly because he can offer her some type of security, thus exploiting him.

Not just hearts, but people in Our Nig are judged on their goodness or lack thereof because of their color. Frado is seen as a “bad” girl by Mrs. Bellmont, Mary and initially by her classmates as well, because she is a “Nig”. Thus far, it seems as if she, though black, has a “white” heart. Meanwhile,  Jack is both white and with a “white heart”. It does not have to be that a person must be of one color and have a heart of the same- blacks can have white hearts and whites can have black ones. The photo I chose as cover art also reminds me of the relationship Jack and Frado have.

Throughout the chapters we have read of Our Nig thus far, Frado has been sent up to her secluded attic room, repeatedly beaten, belittled and abused by Mrs. Bellmont. Jack comes up to the room and Frado’s aid, alleviating her pains, both mental and physical. I think that that small room represents a darkness for Frado, a dark, black abyss in which she is lost and shut in to ruminate in her suffering. The big house that this little girl of 7 or 8 years old becomes in charge of with her tiny hands, is a type of “whiteness”- just as empty and vast as if it were black, but instead representing a possible hope- where she comes into contact with the grandiose furnishings of the house and learns that such beautiful things exist that could one day be hers, and eventually with its front door, that leads her to a sense of  freedom in the schoolyard. Although the house is “white” with its inhabitants and its abundance of space in comparison to her little hovel, it is also “black” in that that very house is also where, as a freed slave, she still experiences a life of bondage and prejudice against her.

When I look at that open door and that white backdrop, I can envision a little black girl, lost within the blackness of her room, in such stark contrast with the whiteness around her. I chose to place “Our Nig”, in a crude type of font, in the doorway because that room, to the Bellmonts is the place that an uneducated black ought to be, a room “good enough for a nigger”(WIlson, 26). “or Sketches from the Life of a Free Slave” is in a caligraphy- type script because the white space represents the possibly of freedom, and the possibility of being viewed as anything other than a slave. Sketches are also done on white paper, so I thought the second part of the title fitting for a white backdrop.

Perhaps I’m thinking a little too hard about what all this represents from one bland and simple photo- but I think my analysis points back to my idea that less is more, and this cover art for Our Nig would not only catch eyes of today’s readers, but also make them wonder how something as simple as a door could possibly relate to such an intricate title. Like the cover art, the issue of slavery is much more involved than just a word or 2 colors could ever represent.

– W

Works Cited:

Wilson, Harriet E.. Our Nig. Cambridge [England: ProQuest LLC, 2008. Print.

Sharpston, Natalie. Entering into the Darkness. N.d. N/A, N/A. wordpress.com. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.

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