Once I winnowed my character list, the next step in re-designing the new book was to identify the theme or message. So what's a theme? Hard to identify! I see two major ideas affecting almost every step of my story. both of them are controversial. I'd really like some feedback here.
The first has to do with the abolitionists as a group. They talk easily about the evils of slavery, the need for emancipation, and the potential for turning slaves into loyal and productive citizens. I know Laura herself agreed with every one of those points. But what the Gideonites don't seem to recognize is the degree to which they harbor some level of prejudice against the blacks. They want the slaves freed but still see them as a working class. They will pay them a small salary for their labor, but need them to keep working at the same jobs they have always done. They observe the religious practices that go on in the slave cabins -- the Shout, for example -- and label them heathenish. They complain that the blacks are no longer obedient. They want to change their child-raising practices, their marriage customs, their level of cleanliness, their dress. They want to free the blacks and then turn them into whites. But they do not expect them to rise to their own level of personhood.
Laura is as guilty of these attitudes as any of them, but she does struggle against them. In several places in her diary, she marvels at incidents in which she forgot the issue of race. Two black school teachers visit her one day, and at dinner the conversation is exciting and stimulating as they discuss the methods that work well oin the classroom. Later she writes that she enjoyed the evening so much that she failed to notice that the two visitors were black.
What is your reaction to such incidents? Does it make you uncomfortable to be reminded that even the best of us has inborn prejudices against those who are different? Does the above incident make you think any less of Laura? Are my readers going to see this theme as polemic?
I'd really like to her what you have to say. Comment below, please.