I’ve been re-reading Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince for the first time in about six years. I’d forgotten just what an impact this short book makes, and somehow, I’m not quite sure how, forgotten how present the body is in this life story.
For Mary Prince the body is weapon, testament and witness, all in one. The fists that pummel her flesh, the hands that wield the whip whose lashes make her bleed, that tie her up, that force salt into bleeding wounds reveal the capacity of humans to do violence, to use their own bodies as weapons.
But Mary’s body is, itself, also a weapon: as testament to the relentless violence of slavery, it serves as a weapon against barbarism, against the horrors of slavery. Mary’s words reveal the extent of the physical suffering she endured: salt boils that, in some cases, ate away to the bone, raw pulpy flesh that later must have been crisscrossed with scars, and a prematurely worn out body whose aches and pains bear witness to the endless hours of toil.
And through her tears and her sorrow, her body bears witness to all the other slave bodies that surround her. This is, indeed, not only the autobiography of Mary Prince, but a collective autobiography of slavery, in which the salty tears of the slave mingle with the harsh water of Grand Turk’s salt ponds, and the maggot infested wounds of an abused slave.
“I have been a slave myself–I know what slaves feel–I can tell by myself what other slaves feel, and by what they have told me” (p. 23)