Over the course of his career, Williams Wells Brown became an instrumental figure in the discussion about African-American rights and a premiere critique of the institutions of slavery and servitude which were heavily involved in the society and culture of his time. One of the unique aspects of Brown’s work was the way in which he approached the subject of slavery and the implementation of of humor he included in the novels and poems that he created. Among these, “The Escape” is one of the more prominent pieces that Brown created, notably for its depiction of the human body and the utter lack of control that the slaves had in how their own bodies were handled and treated by slave owners. For my research proposal, I will be arguing how Brown used this depiction in a comedic fashion rather than in dramatic form, and how this contributed to the style that he developed and to a more diverse characterization of slavery in literature of that era.
Furthermore, within this research of the “The Escape,” an emphasis will be placed on the way in which the works of Brown can be correlated to the work of Charles Chestnutt who also famously documented the lives of slaves and African-Americans at this time. Both authors had a keen perception and ability to present the scenario that the slave population faced, while doing so in a unique and comical way. The two were early forefathers of a darker sense of humor within American comedy and helped to develop so much of the research and discussion will be focused on how they were able to adapt and readily change the outlook that was presented to the slave population and those who read about the conditions that the slaves faced in the northern areas where the authors resided. As a result of this migration north, most notably Brown who moved to Boston when he was much younger, the authors were given insight into differing perspectives and writing styles so there will be a focus as well on how these influences came to help them develop their style and form as authors.

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Research Proposal: American Humor

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  • Andrews, William. (1980) The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP. Print.
  • Botelho, Keith M. (2005). William Wells Brown’s The Escape , Comparative Drama 39:2: 187-212
  • Brown, William W. (1963) The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements, New York: Thomas Hamilton.
  • Farrison, William Edward. (1969). William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, p. 290.
  • McKay, Nellie Y.; (2004). “Charles Waddell Chesnutt”. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.