Constructing white privilege

Transatlantic slavery, reproduction, and the segregation of the marriage plot in the late seventeenth century

Authored by: Valerie Forman

Routledge Companion to Women, Sex, and Gender in the Early British Colonial World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781472479945
eBook ISBN: 9781315613772
Adobe ISBN:


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This essay explores how the discourses and practices of development necessary to transform “wild” spaces into productive plantations in the New World became constituted in the early modern transatlantic political economy. In particular, I read Southerne’s Oroonoko in relation to other literary and historical documents in order to unpack and make visible the development of the plantation economy through the simultaneous racialization and gendering of laboring bodies, especially female bodies. I argue that Southerne’s Oroonoko highlights this racialization through both its focus on economic inheritance and sexual procreation and its transformation of generic conventions. I begin by tracing how the transportation of the conventions of the marriage plot, particularly of the English stage, requires their reconfiguration in the West Indies in order to imagine and make sense of the processes of plantation development. I then focus on the connections between the play’s unusual tragicomic split-plot structure and the ways that procreation and the production of global commodities become linked as relations of race, sex, and gender negotiate the business of slavery that will provide a source not only of profit but also for the accumulation of capital for generations to come. I conclude by demonstrating that the play’s split-plot structure actually imagines and enacts segregation through which the prosperous world it constructs as “white” can operate as if it is independent from the tragic world of African slavery on which it depends.

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