Archive - The Americas Fa06


It becomes obvious, in reading the slave narrative of Juan Francisco Manzano, that he greatly values his childhood upbringing. The first several pages of his autobiography go into great detail about his place of origin, as well as how and by whom he was raised. For example, in the very first paragraph, Manzano describes the kindness of his first master, Dona Beatriz de Justiz, and explains that she took it upon herself to educate her slaves, and even go as far as to grant some of them their freedom. He then points out that his mother was one of Dona Beatriz’s favorite slaves, and that she was “singled out” for training and education. The phrase “singled out” implies that she was chosen, and was therefore better than other slaves at that time. This part of the text is the first of many instances in which Manzano separates himself from other slaves. At a later point in his life, Manzano describes a situation in which Dona Joaquina, on of his many masters, took it upon herself to make sure that he did not “mix with the other black children.” The fact that he noted this implies that Manzano saw himself not as a part of the black race or the slave community, but above it. This in part, is due to his posh upbringing in the house of Dona Beatriz de Justiz, and his attending of plays, memorization of poems and Bible passages, etc. It is apparent that Manzano not only values the things that he learned as a child, but also views himself as superior because of them.

In Juan Francisco Manzano’s The Autobiography of a Slave he not only related the tales of slave, but presented many powerful ideas about the world and times he lived in. There are two very important ideas that stuck out to me when reading this autobiography. One was the fact that the women of this time were very powerful. The other was the extreme issues of race. The power of these women went beyond the mere fact that they were slave owners. They exerted power over not only their slaves, but the men in their lives as well. Some of his mistresses would lock him up at their whim for countless hours without food. Others would order their other men slaves to lock him up in the stocks for the night after the slightest offenses. Even when the husbands of the mistresses attempted to give him food, the mistress would exert her dominance over the husband and not allow these things to happen. As far as race issues were concerned, in this time they were of the utmost importance. Every description was laced with the words “mulato”, “black,” or “creole.” One’s race determined their status. Even amongst the slaves racism existed. The slave’s mother would, “…take care that I did not mix with the other black children.” This is a prime example of how severe the race issues were at this time. Juan Francisco Manzano effectively told a story of a slave in Cuba, while also incorporating important social issues of the time.

Juan Francisco Manzano’s autobiographical narrative is a coming of age story with twists and turns that occur throughout the text. Towards the end of his autobiography, the reader is presented straight-out with the brutality, dehumanization, and barbaric actions done by the slave owners. In a way there is a role reversal, not previously seen in other texts. The slave owners are more of the cannibals that are previously seen in Columbus’ text. The way they treat Manzano and his mother towards the end of the text, the reader realizes the brutality and animosity issued on all slaves. “[H]e raised his hand and struck my mother with his whip. I felt this blow to my heart” (14). Through this quote, the reader can point out the tone of Manzano. Its heartfelt, the sadness and pain that he endures throughout the latter portion of Manzano’s autobiography is an ongoing cycle in his later teen years. In other instances Manzano is locked in a cell, “I was locked up for twenty-four hours in a coal cellar without floorboards and nothing to cover myself” (7). Manzano is the innocent affected one in his life; the slave owners, on the other hand, are presented in a negative light, by all standards. Even Doña Beatriz de Justiz could also be compared to the slave owners for she is basically the “caregiver” and adopted mother of all slaves that she owns. There is this ironic sense that is presented in Manzano’s writing that allows the reader to question the reasons behind these brutish acts of hate and whether the acts of beating the slaves was caused by the caste system or caused by racial discrimination.

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