Voices in the Walls 31

3 of 6 of an outline of the remainder of Voices in the Walls.

Matt arrives at the Sayre home to find the front door ripped from it’s hinges. Inside, Sayre and his son are on the floor, badly beaten. Sayre is nearly unconscious and Saul is near death with a massive open wound on his skull. Alice is gone, taken by Meeker and Bellows to replace the slaves they have been unable to recapture. Saul was not taken only because he appeared dead.

The details of action will suggest themselves when I get to this point of the story. The essential part is that Matt is outraged, says to himself, “What can I do”, and then realizes that Alice’s capture into slavery is no different than what happened to tens of thousands of other slaves in Africa, and what will happen to her now is no worse than what happens to all other slaves, including the ones back home at Tidewater.

After a great deal of agonizing, Matt agrees to accompany Sayre as he follows his daughter. This means crossing the border into slave states. Sayre’s claim to be a freeborn man turns out to be untrue. He is an escaped slave who crossed into freedom before Matt was born. Discussion here of Dred Scott and how different things were twenty years earlier when the North still offered freedom for escaping slaves.

Sayre is going back into the land from which he escaped as a young man. He can’t go as a free black without papers (need to research this) and so goes as Matt’s slave. Playing the part of a slave owner is easy for Matt, but it affects the relationship he has built up with Sayre. Acting as if Sayre were a slave makes him think of Sayre as a slave. This slide back into what Matt normally would be is the first of several emotional reversals they both suffer as Matt is dragged back and forth between two visions of the meaning of slavery.

Matt talks to the whites they encounter, trying to find out where Alice has been taken, while trying not to raise suspicions. He hates the deception; it offends his sense of dignity. And he hates the silent disapproval on Sayre’s face as he falls too readily into easy give and take with those who have always been his peers, but whom he is now deceiving.

This emotional back and forth needs to be fully developed as the two of them work their way southward on Alice’s trail. There needs to be some humor and some adventure in these events as well. After all, this is a novel to be enjoyed. The modern reader should be in a position of watching Matt’s moral agonies without being sucked in to them. After all, the reader knows slavery is wrong, and Matt is just learning this. The reader needs to have some assurance that all will be well. At the same time, he needs to wonder what will be the cost in the end, and he needs just a little doubt. After all, things could go bad in a big way. Matt could betray Alice and Sayre. They could both be killed, or enslaved and left behind. The reader needs enough assurance that these things won’t happen to be able to enjoy the book, but he can’t be really sure, or he will lose interest.


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