Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave and irrepressible rogue, is lost in the underworld of 1830s New Orleans. Desperate to escape the city’s unscrupulous bill collectors and the pawing hands of a schoolteacher hellbent on marrying him, he jumps aboard the Republic, a slave ship en route to collect members of a legendary African tribe, the Allmuseri. Thus begins a voyage of metaphysical horror and human atrocity, a journey which challenges our notions of freedom, fate and how we live together. Peopled with vivid and unforgettable characters, nimble in its interplay of comedy and serious ideas, this dazzling modern classic is a perfect blend of the picaresque tale, historical romance, sea yarn, slave narrative and philosophical allegory.
Now with a new introduction from renowned poet and critic Stanley Crouch, this twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Middle Passage celebrates a cornerstone of the American canon and the masterwork of one of its most important writers. "Long after we’d stopped believe in the great American novel, along comes a spellbinding adventure story that may be just that" (Chicago Tribune).
Reading Group Guide
Questions and Topics For Discussion
Middle Passage is the story of an adventurer who takes to the high seas. It is also the story of a writer. As the narrative’s protagonist Rutherford Calhoun explains, “Only the hours I spent hunched over the skipper’s logbook kept me steady…Then, as our days aboard the Juno wore on, I came to it with a different, stranger compulsion—a need to transcribe and thereby transfigure all we had experienced, and somehow through all this I found a way to make my peace with the recent past by turning it into Word” (pp. 189-90)
- Consider the role of storytelling in the novel. How do the stories recorded by Rutherford Calhoun enable him to make sense of his experiences, and thus perhaps aid him in coping with the many moral and other challenges he faces?
- Consider the role of storytelling in your own life. What stories are important to you? And how do these stories help you cope with and make sense of your experiences?
- The quotation cited above expresses a positive function of storytelling. Are there also examples in the novel of characters who have fallen victim to false stories, either their own or those of others?
- The term metafiction refers to fictional works that call attention to their own making, breaking the illusion that the