The fiction book The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is a story about a young girl whose parents passed away when she was 6-years old. She had been living in Ireland at the time and became an orphan. At the turn of the 19th century on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, young, white, Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed under the care of a girl named Bella, the master’s illegitimate, black daughter.
The Kitchen House is an exact depiction of indentured servitude and the cruelty of cold-hearted slave circumstances pre-civil war. Kathleen Grooms evidently shows how African Americans were not respected as equals and were required in indecorous work settings fearing for their lives on a daily basis. The slaves would awaken and go to bed every night in terror for their life. The protagonist of the book, Lavinia, is white and raised by black slaves. During her infantile, she has a tough time understanding the alteration amongst white and black people.
Unexposed to the hate and advent that was prevalent of this time, Lavinia trusts she is the same as the slaves who brought her up. When Lavinia asks Papa George if she could be his daughter, irrespective of her skin color, he answers saying, “Bambina…
You look at those birds. Some of them be brown, some of them be white and black. Do you think when they little chicks, those mamas and papas care about that? ” (Grooms 26). Papa George, a black slave treated as a possession, treasured Lavinia nonetheless of her skin color.
Although he is treated harsh and dishonestly by other Caucasians, he admiralties Lavinia and treats her as an equal; something most white people do not do for him. Marshall characterizes the public view that slave possessors had. He is very forbidding to them and thinks of them as animals. Lavinia does not have that opinion. When they were younger, Marshall said to Lavinia, “Don’t start talking like that. You’re not one of them.
They’re not like us. They’re stupid” (103). Marshall tells Lavinia to not speak like those that raised her because white people are greater than them. Both of them were young, and white; however, only Marshall held such abhorrence inside him.
Miss Martha defines the slaves to Lavinia by stating “They are not my friends. They are my servants. They look out for themselves” (107). All these statements and prejudgment was very confusing to Lavinia because she believed of the slaves as merely her friends. She did not view them as stuff or see them for just their outside color; she saw them as human beings. She saw no difference between herself and the slaves.
Later on, Marshall says to Laving, “You are never to buy gifts for the servants without my approval. They are your servants! For God’s sake, Laving. Try to elevate yourself to your new station! ” (253). She does not comprehend that she is anticipated to act higher to her servants.
It appears that Lavinia will never know the difference between her and the servants. Marshall attempts to make her call each servant by their names, not “mama” or “papa.” Lavinia, nevertheless, does not see them as anything other than her parents, skin color apart. Lavinia also does not recognize segregation.
She was forced to sit down with white people while at church for the first time. She did not understand why her African American friends were standing in the back. During a conversation with Mama Mae, Lavinia said, “Mostly it seems like I’m part of this family, but In church I have to go up front and sit with the white people. I want to sit with the twins, and they can’t come up with me, and can’t go back by them” (149). The events that transpire at the church are a perfect representation of the isolation of this time period. Procedures like that were very common pre-civil war and throughout.
Whites and blacks were divided in many parts of life, as well as at church, school, in bathrooms, on buses and so much more. Water fountains and benches were specified for whites and blacks. Grooms does not touch on a lot of segregation because the majority of the novel takes place on the plantation. Yet, segregation occurs on the farmstead between the white landlords and black slaves.
They each live in isolated houses on the land. It takes a while but ultimately Lavinia understands that there are different opportunities for slaves than there are for white people.
Slaves are expected to act one way while white people have a distinct set of expectations. While Marshall was hurting her, Lavinia looked to Mama Mae for help and suddenly realized for the first time the true extent of her helplessness. In that instant, Lavinia realizes how Mama Mae cannot speak up to aid and defend her because it is not within her rights to do so. If she did, she would have been beaten or even murdered for her actions. Throughout history, many slaves had been penalized for talking out or repudiating consequence.
Later in the novel, Mama Mae refuses full relegation, and consequently is beaten and hung for doing so. Lavinia pronounces the death of Mama Mae by uttering, “Our massive old oak tree stood near the top of the hill, its lush green leaves shading the thick branch that bore the weight of a hanging body’ (Grooms 358). That moment in the novel is emotional and serves as a prime example of the vicious and dehumidifying treatment slaves suffered. Sakes wrote, “Like permanence, violence was a universal characteristic of slavery’ (Sakes 6).
On a day-to-day basis slaves feared the bodily violence they could potentially bear. If a slave acted out of place, it was likely that their punishment would be of a violent manner. There is a caste system within slaves; some have more food, nicer clothing, and better housing. In the Kitchen House a caste system was well represented. The slaves who served the people in the big house had more food, better living arrangements and treatment.
The slaves who lived in the lodgings worked the fields experienced terrible treatment from their offensive supervisor, Rankin. Michael C. Robinson described slavery conditions by writing, “Days filled with endless, backbreaking toil; barely adequate food, clothing, and shelter; the breakup of families; and the ensuing psychological damage” (Robinson 5).
In many cases, Rankin sold a lot of their food so he could buy alcohol to drink for themselves. The people of the digs were much skinnier and always looked stressed, as if they were waiting for something dreadful to happen and were treated worse than animals. Harold Holler wrote, “In some asses, slave owners kept their ‘people’ in worse settings than they kept their animals” (Holler 10).
Lavinia spoke about the people of the lodgings by stating, “Our clothing was different, certainly more substantial than theirs, and they studied our feet as though they had never seen shoes.” (Grooms 41) The house servants were seen as greater than the field workers. They obtained better clothing and materials to make clothing.
There was an obvious variance between the servants in the kitchen house and the slaves living in the quarters. When at a festivity, Lavinia said, “After the women had eaten, the children were called back and given the little remaining food.
On seeing their excitement, I realized this was a rare happening and was embarrassed to think that Belle had to tell me to finish the meat” (42). Lavinia was used to eating appropriate meals and gentler treatment than those that lived in the digs.
That was an eye-opening experience for her on the shocks and realisms that some slaves experienced. Miss Martha was talking about Rankin and his responsibilities on the plantation. When she watched one of her servants get tied up and another one being shoved around, she said, “He is employed to keep order in the fields, where utilizing some of this treatment might be necessary.
It is however unnecessary to do so with my house servants” (113). This proves that a caste system exists within slaves. In this case, the house servants received much better treatment and housing than the field laborers.
Slaves were treated extremely bad and were often beaten for no valid motive. Robinson wrote, “Enough blacks experienced inadequate care, physical and sexual abuses, and other forms of mistreatment to make them all aware of the uncertainty and insecurity they commonly faced” (Robinson 5). The slaves at the lodgings were treated awfully and occasionally killed for no cause at all.
Even the servants in the kitchen house sometimes met unnecessary torment. Belle stated, “Four men jump Ben when he comes out of the pig barn. They tie him and ride off before Papa or Jimmy get there to stop them” (Grooms 71). Rankin and other men believe that Ben is responsible for killing a little white girl named Sally; even though it is evident he did not do it. They spoke harshly to him saying, “Amiga, you confess or we goanna kill you. ” Ben has no idea what they are talking about and tries to tell them that, but it does no good.
“When a slave does something wrong, they nail an ear to the tree before they cut it off.” (71) The men were doing that when the chief put an end to the pointless and painful conduct. It was too late. He had not died but he would never fully recover. His face became malformed, he lost an ear and it was a petrifying incident that will stay with him forever.
His ear was spewing blood and he was running around desperately searching for his clothes. Robinson wrote, “The despotic control of the owners led to serious abuses, especially because lacks were viewed as subhuman” (Robinson 5). Belle was raped by her oblivious, brainwashed half-brother, Marshall. During the rape, Belle thought to herself , “all I know is, I’m goanna die, I’m goanna die” (Grooms 154). There was nothing she could have done. If she strained harder to fight him off it could have ended worse, possibly ensuing in her death.
After the Thirty Year’s War, Rupee’s economy was left depressed. A lot of people were left without work and were looking for a new beginning. Indentured servitude became very popular; an owner would pay for someone’s passage in return for four to seven years of service.
If the servant could survive those years, they were promised some land and freedom. One-half to two-thirds of immigrants who came from Europe to America Were indentured servants. Sadly, those men and women received slight schooling. Even if they made it and survived those years, it was very trying for them to survive on their own. Thomas C Wheeler wrote, “Of Ireland she rarely spoke, save to recall that she was often hungry there and that for her main meal she often ate cress out of the brooks on oaten bread with a bit of lard” (Wheeler 20).
People in Europe were hungry and living in poor conditions. They were searching for any way out of the poverty they confronted and that is why many chose indentured servitude. For the most part, settings were not as bad as the condition’s slaves faced. That is, if they could survive the journey over. Albanians parents were not as fortunate as she was. Her parents did not make it to the end of the journey from Ireland to America. Her older brother, Cardigan, was easy to sell off. Lavinia was more difficult to find a place for because she was younger and looked sick. Request for labors increased and so did the amount of an indentured servant.
That is when individuals started purchasing African American slaves. Sakes wrote, “Unlike indentured servitude, enslavement did not end after five to six years. Prisoners never bequeathed their status to their children, whereas a substantial proportion of slaves throughout human history inherited their bondage” (Sakes 6). Property-owners began to comprehend the long-term benefits of obtaining slaves as an alternative of paying for an indentured servant. It was cheaper, and they had them for life instead of for a couple of years.
Kathleen Grooms writes about what inspired her to write this novel and how she wrote it, at the end of the novel. She said, “l tried on a number of occasions to change some of the events (those that I found profoundly disturbing), but the Story would Stop when did that, so I forged ahead to write what was revealed” (Grooms 368). Her story matches other writers’ descriptions of slavery and the agony those people faced. The possessors and the overseers had a excessive deal of hatred in them to be able to treat other people as less than human. People are not born with this kind of detestation; they are raised to have it. In, The Kitchen House, Grooms is able to reveal those differences through Marshall and Lavinia.
Kathleen Grooms accurately expresses the horror of being enslaved or in indentured servitude pre-civil war in The Kitchen House. It is clear that she did a lot of serious research in order to accurately portray the horrendous circumstances that slaves and indentured servants faced. The Kitchen House displays the punitive reality of improper working conditions along with the disrespect those men, women, and children faced every day. When linking her work to historians’ work on slavery conditions and biases proves that The Kitchen House was written in the proper context.