The Education Of Mingo Analysis

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It is within this ideological framework that the precise nature of the lawyer’s ostensibly humanist outlook and charitable gestures attain greater clarity: the act of bestowing upon Turkey “a highly respectable looking coat of [his] own” is exposed as an essentially economic exchange, a “favor” designed to be repaid with the prompt abatement of “[Turkey’s afternoon] rashness and obstreperousness” (Melville 1106). Failing to grasp that social relations are unreducible to purely economic relations, that clearly defined principles of transaction, operating only on one level of reality, are often inadequate to accounting for individual psychological complexities, the lawyer is the embodiment of the bureaucratic mind at its most impersonal: highly…show more content…
Like “Bartleby,” Johnson’s text interrogates the dehumanizing interpersonal dynamics that exist between a figure invested with established institutional authority and an individual trapped in an abject condition of enforced servitude. It is important, however, to recognize that while the lawyer’s position of dominance is largely limited to the financial and occupational sphereit is no coincidence, after all, that the narrative positions itself within the confines of Wall StreetMoses Green, in contrast, possesses virtually unlimited control over all aspects of his slave’s existence. The lawyer hires Bartleby, but Green buys Mingo, with “Mexican coin” (Johnson 3). Thus, although Green’s authority similarly arises from an exploitative system of property and human relationsthat is, the totalitarian system of Black slaverythe principles of ownership undergirding his slaveholding status render him not so much a master as a godlike figure of near-divine authority: Mingo is not just his slave, his chattel, but his artistic creation, a “rude chump of foreign clay” (Johnson 5) who owes not merely his material livelihood, but his very state of existence, to Moses…show more content…
In an ironic inversion, Johnson names his rural Illinois slaveholder after a prominent Old Testament patriarch known for killing an Egyptian slave master and releasing his enslaved people from the bondage of slavery. The full implications of Green’s name are revealed with a consideration of his namesake’s historical importance to America’s liberation from British colonization: not only was the founding of America as the ‘New Israel’ by the Pilgrims likened to Moses’ establishment of Israel, the 1776 Declaration of Independence was in fact ideologically grounded in, and legitimized by, the image of the Biblical exodus from Egypt. The undercurrents of historical awareness and cultural specificity in Johnson’s text are reminiscent of Melville’s exposure of the conflict between antebellum ideals of social democracy and an exploitative economic system; yet in “Mingo”, what is emphasized through Green’s characterization is the period’s superficial adherence to democratic principles and the hypocritical commitment to a national doctrine of personal freedom. Indeed, the omniscient narrator’s double-edged comment that “You had to have a model, a good Christian gentleman like Moses himself, to wash a Moor white” (Johnson 5) is an ironic invocation of the words spoken by the
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