Economically driven, the slave trade inevitably reconstituted the body as both an exchangeable commodity and a figural assemblage of parts.
The rhetoric of accounting came to mask—and in some sense make possible—the violence of the trade.
Only in the ledger, manifest, or cargo list—in the itemized and quantitative table of the account—could the human body be rendered exchangeable, and so the business of “bookkeeping” became both the reality and one of the master metaphors of slavery itself.
However, in relying on the economic logic and language of business, slavery and the racist ideology that followed in its wake were likewise vulnerable to a discourse that could challenge the institution onits own terms.
Rather than doing away with the rhetoric of business and accounting, some abolitionists chose to critique and undermine slavery .
In the writings of Frederick Douglass, for instance, the terminology of accounting—especially the terminology of criminal bookkeeping—serves as a rhetorical weapon.
In doing so, Chesnutt’s novel participates in, or prefigures, a method of journalistic “muckraking” that was soon to characterize the first decade of the twentieth century.
“Bodysnatching” has become such a trope of science fiction that we tend to forget that it was also the reality of the slave trade: the violent appropriation of the body, the traumatic displacement from the familiar to the foreign, or alien.
As the town’s unrest intensifies, Carteret faces domestic pressures; his only child Dodie and wife Olivia are both unwell.
Carteret’s niece Clara, recently introduced to society, is courted by the young Tom Delamere, a handsome and conniving aristocrat who spends most evenings nurturing his penchant for drink and cards.