Our Nig approaches a slave narrative from a different angle than the traditional slave autobiographies. Rather than talking about slavery in the South, Harriet Wilson tells the story of a “free black” child of the North. Scholars have investigated why this novel was muted from society. This novel was hidden back where its story could not surface and impact those it meant to empower. Although this novel could be seen as a way to get another slave’s story noticed, the white audiences have more to worry about than the movement against slavery. The novel uncovers the fact that the North offers no more freedom than the South. Abolitionists, in particular, sought to bury this text as it exposes “slavery’s shadow” in the North; the North was a place where free blacks suffered as contracted servants for racist families. Our Nig’s descent into literary obscurity is explained by its appeal to the colored audience, the exposure of broken promises of freedom and overall criticism against the North.
Many white Northerners declared their position to support the Abolition of Slavery, however, not all of those Northerners had the genuine concern for those enslaved. During this period, many white Northerners often treated the colored people as lower beings. Wilson expresses anger towards those Northerners who were guilty of mistreating Blacks despite what they claim. She shows rage particularly towards the Christians; the Bellmonts follow the Christian practice, in which people are expected to be respectful and just. Despite these Christian ideals, the Bellmonts force Frado to work as their maid without giving her any reward for her labor. Nobody stops the exploitation of the young girl. Nobody objects of her liberties being taken away from her, nor do they voice the concern as Frado’s health was “impaired by lifting the sick man and drudgery in the kitchen” (Wilson 81). Wilson’s tone is heated towards the Christian family for not following the tenets of their religion solely to benefit themselves. She’s expected to wash the dishes, cook, sweep the floors, and take care of the farm, yet does not get paid. Not only does Wilson show that Frado does not get paid, but also shows that not one member witnessing this slavery raises a concern about the mistreatment. This is one of many examples throughout the narrative where Northerners are shown just as guilty as their neighboring Southerner counterparts.
Frado’s experiences explores the dynamics of freed and enslaved blacks during the time period; Southern slaves had the capability to indulge in freedoms that Frado could never embrace. Her interactions with the Bellmonts could actually be seen as a worse situation than those slaving in the South. Slaves in general were all handled very cruelly, but despite all the mistreatment, slaves could look to each other for strength and resilience. Frado had to undergo the same arduous work and beatings on her own. This intensifies the pain as she has no outlet to rely upon for strength. Her “roughish eyes, sparkling with an exuberance of spirit” disappeared as towards the end of the novel, Frado became a poor, sick tormented girl (Wilson 34). Slaves could rebel together as strength comes in numbers, but Frado’s refusal to stand up alone against her abusers splintered her emotional state, demonstrating how shocking the North treats their “free men.” The freedom entitled to Frado was denied constantly as she lived a life equivalent to that of a slave.