Power: Men and Women, Black and White

Ad for runaway slaves
Ad for runaway slaves
Slaves were badly beaten for running away the first time, after that, they might be sold further south or have appendages cut off.
Slaves were badly beaten for running away the first time, after that, they might be sold further south or have appendages cut off.
Slave families were often broken up, wives from husbands, children from parents.
Slave families were often broken up, wives from husbands, children from parents.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." -Lord Acton

Plantation owners in the American South prior to the Civil War had godlike control over their slaves, wives and children. This may not come as a surprise, but Marlen Suyapa Bodden's The Wedding Gift dramatizes it vividly.  Told alternately by Sarah, a slave, and Theodora, the wife of a very wealthy and somewhat  "benevolent" planter, one could argue that these women have more in common than they might realize. Truly awful things happen to both of these women, both at the hands of their lord and master and other men as well. Theodora has more options in most cases, both because of the color of her skin and her wealth, but Sarah is more determined, scaring her family and friends witless with her talk of escape. In the end, there is no Hollywood finale for these women, but that would have been cheating with this story. They get the best resolution the time and place and their own decisions will allow.

While The Wedding Gift may seem slow to start, and it is by no means a "quick read," I became engrossed in the story and neglected other tasks calling for my attention, especially towards the end. The book is very well researched and is based on an actual case in 1850's Alabama. You care for these women, even the willfully blind Theodora and her spoiled daughter, because there are no good options for anyone under the system of slavery. I recommend this book to those who want a corrective to Gone With The Wind and anyone who wants to think and feel.