Thomas Carlyle

  1. What effect is created by the title of Carlyle's "The Nigger Question"? What seems to have been his motive in so shocking the reader?
  2. Why do you think he published this treatise/monologue anonymously? Is it a dramatic monologue? If so, are its intentions immediately clear? What might be the intended effect of any initial confusions?
  3. What is the purpose of his use of a frame? What is the narrator's alleged relationship to the material presented? Does it matter that we allegedly don't know the author of the statements presented?
  4. Would Carlyle have had access to accurate facts about the poverty, hunger and physical oppression of West Indian slaves? (yes, though the Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter and other publications)
  5. Are there unexpected or unusual aspects to having the speaker of a philanthropic society attack its aims? Why do you think Carlyle chooses to do so?
  6. What associations would Carlyle's audience have had with Exeter Hall? (gathering place of abolitionists)?
  7. What politics were associated with Fraser's Magazine? With the periodical which published a rebuttal, The Inquirer?
  8. What is the effect of presenting a speaker whose views are found offensive by some members of his audience? What role does the speaker wish to play?
  9. What are some of the speaker's chief anxieties? Were these shared to some degree by other Victorians? Which of his dislikes seem to be especially virulent? (fear of loss of revenue for whites in West Indies; fear that relative concern for black persons will distract attention from the needs of whites)
  10. In particular, what policies does he find offensive? (compensation to sugar planters for lowered profits since emancipation; attempts to stop the slave trade by patrolling southern US coast)
  11. Since Carlyle and his wife didn't own property in the West Indies, what do you think may have motivated his concern for slaveowners?
  12. What imagery does he use to describe the black inhabitants of the Caribbean? (e. g. pp. 8, 10) What roles and characteristics does he ascribe to persons of color?
  13. What is meant by "pumpkins"? Would these have provided a healthy diet?
  14. According to Carlyle, what characteristics make the European colonizer unable to perform manual labor?
  15. What assumptions does he make about Caribbean history and economics? Are these accurate? (believes white people alone responsible for region's agriculture; ignores history of earlier agriculture as well as exploitive features of its present form)
  16. What are some of Carlyle's attitudes on related social issues--the Irish peasantry, reformist movements, the agitation for suffrage, labor unions, the relationship between European and other countries? What seem to him good ideals in social relations? (master-servant bond)
  17. Why do you think he found the notion of "the ballot box" and democracy so offensive?
  18. What seem to be his attitudes toward women? What does he think of the plight of impoverished seamstresses?
  19. What form of economic relationship does Carlyle advocate between black and white persons? Would a nostalgia for slavery have had resonance in the 1840s?
  20. Does the essay achieve closure?
  21. What are some features of Carlyle's rhetorical style? How would you characterize the effectiveness of his "argument"? (circular, not progressive, inconsistent, meandering, moves off topic to an attack on the times in general)
  22. Given Carlyle's background as an unlanded Scottish youth with few prospects, how do you explain his identification with a slave-oppressing class?
  23. Who is its intended audience? To what attitudes/emotions of his reader does it expect to appeal?
  24. It has been suggested that the essay is intentionally offensive. Are there ways in which he might have presented some portion of his ideas more convincingly?
  25. How do his statements on work relate to his theory of work in general? To his other works such as Past and Present?
  26. Is his doctrine of work consistently applied? (whites can't work in Caribbean!) Does he distinguish between manual and mental labor, and if so, what grounds does he give, if any, for apportioning these?
  27. How does Carlyle's essay conclude? Does he offer any concrete suggestions for what he considers an unfortunate state of affairs?
  28. How would you describe Carlyle's mode of argument in this treatise? (performative, sarcastic, melodramatic) How does he hope to convince his reader? (by fiat, hyperbole, appeal to latent prejudices)

John Stuart Mill, On the Negro Question

  1. What are some ways Mill attempts to refute Carlyle's diatribe? What are his views of reformers? Caribbean history? The situation of black laborers?
  2. How does Mill's style contrast with that of Carlyle? His tone and mode of argument?
  3. How does Mill's view of the purpose and value of work differ from Carlyle's? What for him is the value of leisure? Do Mill's views on work suggest those of any others of the period? (Morris on need to transform labor into pleasure)
  4. What does Mill suggest has limited the progress of black people heretofore? What are important achievements of black people? Are such observations made today? (Afrocentrist history)
  5. What points does he make about the crops farmed in the West Indians? (sugar and rum are luxury crops)
  6. Who does he believe should benefit from the labor of black West Indians? (they should own results of their labor)
  7. What does he believe are the merits and faults of his own century?
  8. Is he correct that Carlyle's work will be seen as an intervention in contemporary issues? (debates about abolition of US slavery)
  9. Do you find Mill's rebuttal convincing? How does "The Negro Question" anticipate the views of On Liberty and The Subjection of Women?