Essay, Research Paper: My Contraband And Brothers By Alcott

Literature: Civil War

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Of all the atrocities, man has endured; none has caused more misery and
destruction to the soul than human bondage, also identified as slavery. It is
illustrated in Louisa May Alcott’s story: “My Contraband,” originally
published “The Brothers.” The Civil War was fought over slavery. It pitted
brother against brother, but this did not kill these brothers, it was the deep
and festering hatred they had for each other that sent them to their early
graves. The story these individuals create is complex and depressing; the main
character, Robert is a contraband (a slave who has come to the North to seek
freedom). Instead of finding freedom, he finds his half brother Ned and his wife
Lucy. After the death of his master, Robert arrives from the South to freedom in
the North to work in a hospital caring for wounded men of the war. His
assignment is to help Miss Dane, a nurse, tend to a dying Rebel. Miss Dane
appears to be the narrator in the story She is aware of Robert’s troubled
existence and observes despair from the moment their encounter. Upon their first
meeting, she sensed sadness from deep within him she remarked, “I had seen
colored people in what they call “the black sulks” when, for days, they
neither smiled nor spoke, and scarcely ate. But, this was something more than
that” (528). Miss Dane appears to be a compassionate person; nursing comes
easy to her and she lacks intolerance regarding Robert’s color. She had wanted
“to know and comfort him; and following the impulse of the moment I went in
and touched him on the shoulder”(529). This is an example of her compassionate
view of the contraband. She believed that “black boys are far more faithful
and handy than some of the white scamps” (528). Robert is content to stay with
the rebel even though he has typhoid. When Miss Dane informs Robert that since
he himself has never contracted this disease, he may become infected with it, he
states, “It don’t matter, Missis. I’d rather be up here with the fever
than down with those niggers; and there isn’t no other place for me.” (530).
For seven days, Miss Dane nursed the Rebel and for these seven days, he did
regain consciousness. At times his presence could not be felt, until in his
feverish state he begins to ramble on. At times his rambling would be incoherent
other times she would be able to understand what he was saying. On this night
the Doctor is skeptical about his survival he instructs her to “Give him water
as long as he can drink, and if he drops into a natural sleep, it may save
him…Nothing but sleep or a miracle will keep him now…” (531). At that
moment the Rebel called out for “Lucy” (531). Miss Dane felt “some new
terror seemed to have gifted him with momentary strength” (531). She went to
his side exclaiming, “Yes, here’s Lucy” (531) this agitated the Rebel even
further. It was evident when “His dull eye fixed upon me, dilating with a
bewildered look he broke out fiercely That’s a lie she’s dead, and so’s
Bob, damn him” (531). Miss Dane dozed off, she awoke with a shock as she
sprang up she felt “A strong hand put me back into my seat and held me
there” (532). It was Robert, he stood there his “eyes full of sombre
fire;” (532). Miss Dane was confused and stunned by these events. Robert was
calm and told her “Sit still, Missus; I won’ hurt yer…but you waked up to
soon (533). She “saw murder in his eyes” (533) and began to plead with
Robert. She questioned him “Why do you hate him? He is not your master”
(533). Robert’s reply, “He’s my brother” (533), astonished her. Even
though she was trying to grasp this information, her mind was attempting to
derive a plan to hang on to her life and the Rebels. Again, she pleaded with
Robert only this time not for an explanation. She feared for her life and for
the Rebels but seeing Roberts mind was full of revenge and hatred, she needed to
know why. She pressed Robert further until he agreed; he had been waiting to
kill the Rebel until he found out about Lucy. Miss Dane questioned, “Who’s
Lucy” (534), his reply “My wife- he took her” (534) only incited her
curiosity further. She persuaded him to tell her his life. Ned is his
half-brother whom Robert declares “He always hated me, I looked so like old
Marster; he don’t” (534). He acknowledged that his father the Marster was
kind to everyone “me, specially...”(534). When Robert saw Lucy at another
plantation and the Marster found out the Robert liked her he bought her. Robert
married her and they developed a strong bond. This bond lasted only a short
while. The death of the Marster changed Robert’s life forever. This prompted
the return of Ned who had been away. Finally Ned’s hatred pertaining Robert
would now be revealed, any happiness Robert knew was going to be stripped from
him. First, Ned sold his mother to another plantation he seized Lucy for
himself. Hatred began to seethe inside Robert he located Ned and declared, “I
half murdered him – an’ tonight I’ll finish” (535). Ned felt he had
achieved his final revenge by whipping Robert and the sale of him. Robert never
saw Lucy again. He believed destiny reunited him with Ned. He waited for a
chance to find out about Lucy therefore allowing Ned to live a little longer.
The omission by Ned that Lucy had “cut her throat” (532) was the -------that
Robert needed to cleanse his hatred of Ned. Robert’s story brought out the
compassion in Miss Dane. She was able to understand and feel some of the hatred
Robert felt for Ned, as a human being she was aware that she must make every
effort to keep Ned alive regardless of her feelings towards him. She appealed to
Robert’s inner yearning, the glimmer of hoe that Lucy may still be alive. He
questioned her “Do you believe. If I let Master Ned live, the Lord will give
me back my Lucy (536). She replied, “As surely as there is a Lord you will
find her here or in the beautiful hereafter, where there is no black or white,
no master and no slave (536). This small amount of hope was what was needed to
keep Ned alive, shortly. Miss Dane and the Doctor helped Robert start over. He
enlisted in the 54th Regiment. He fought bravely taking risks, which pointed to
his desire to die and join Lucy. Miss Dane received a letter stating, “I’ll
fight fer yer till I’m killed, which I hope will be fore long” (538). He was
sent to fight at Fort Wagner. While there he spotted Ned “He was the fust
up” (540) Ned shouted “Bob” (540). Robert shouted “Marster Ned” (540).
He ran towards Ned who stabbed him with a sword in return Robert’s fellow
soldier did the same to Ned. Miss Dane while she acknowledges that the act of
murder is wrong at times, it is understandable. The world Ned and Robert were
from was the same and yet they are opposite. The slave and the master will never
be equal. Ned is allowed to inflict atrocities towards Robert that the modern
man would never be expected to take. Yet it was allowed Robert was not
considered a human by many. They only thing these two brothers shared were the
location of their death. They died at Fort Wagner; the war however played a
small role. Their death’s began years before with the burning hatred that was
smoldering inside each other. The atrocity of human bondage demonstrates how two
men were treated so differently even though they had the same father and were
raised on the same plantation. Their lives were miles apart.
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