Life in the Totalitarian System

In the article, “Life in the Totalitarian System,” author John W. Blassingame depicts the characteristics of blacks during the antebellum period. The plantations of the antebellum period were strong influences on the attitudes and behavior of the slaves that worked on them. The daily routine of slaves was normally the same almost everyday. Most would wake before dawn and prepare breakfast and then feed the livestock. When slaves were late or failed to do their chores whipping was a very common type of punishment.

A typical day in the field for a slave was absolutely miserable. For example, they would handpick worms off plants, cut down tress, build dikes, and plant different crops depending on the time of year. Normally after a long day in the field, slaves would tend to the livestock and cook dinner, but during cotton season the men would be up for hours “ginning” cotton. The hours that slaves worked varied on the season it was and what their responsibilities were. Those on sugar plantations would boil sugar until the early morning. Those who were on different plantation would harvest the seasonal plant for 18-hours at a time. When it wasn’t haves season, slaves would tend to many other jobs that needed to be done on various plantations.

Blassingame explains that with regard to domestic slaves, there was just as much work to do inside as there was on the fields, however, domestic “servants” usually were better fed and dressed somewhat nicer than those slaves who worked in the fields. The domesticated slaves were often given hand-me-down clothing from their masters to wear. The domestic slaves ran many “errands” for their masters that may entail traveling. They also were gardeners, chefs, and many other jobs in the home. Although one would think the domestic slave’s lives were much better than those in the fields, many felt that they had it rougher because they were on call 24/7 by their masters as opposed to having a set amount of hours. If a domestic slave made a mistake, their punishment was far less severe than the field slave’s punishment. A good majority of slaves lived in tiny quarters with dirt floors to sleep on.

There was an unwritten “hierarchy” for slaves which was much disputed. The domestic slaves would often play the role of overseer to make sure everything was done properly and this upset the field slaves. However, whatever role you played as a slave, one was subjected to the worst of human nature and treated like animals. Blassingame proves in his writing that the antebellum period was one of the most despicable and biggest catastrophes in American History.

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