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A Respectable Trade

Posted by Martha Young on October 23, 2000 at 23:18:56:

Martha Young
Economics In Popular Film
A Respectable Trade

A Respectable Trade
Many economic systems exist in the movie A Respectable Trade. Capitalism is present, as the Cole’s hire their cook and pay her for her time. Self – Employment also exists as one witnesses through the doctor. The economic system in which the plot revolves around is Slavery. Mr. Cole tries to earn a fortune in the business of slave trade. His wife, Francis, is ordered to teach them to assimilate into European culture by teaching them English, dressing them in new cloths and re-naming them. As the film progresses, so does Mr. Cole’s greed and arrogance increases. He begins to act superior and to dominate the household. Many slave owners including Mr. Cole began to engrain these feelings into their culture, to be carried through generations.
In A Respectable Trade, the owner of the slaves is Josiah Cole. This is a new business investment for Josiah. He is not well known with the aristocrats in Bristol, England and does not have the poise and charm it takes to be accepted in to their circle. As a result, he invests in marrying Francis Scott. She was raised by “old money” and possesses the grace, status and wealth required to begin a successful business in slave trading. She is also a very educated woman and has the ability to teach the slaves English and how to behave as a European servant might have been expected to. Consequently, Josiah appears to have a prosperous business investment by marring Francis as she can lead him and their business of slave trade into Queen’s Square.
“Generally the owner is responsible for providing minimal food, shelter, and clothing. Members of a family can be separated at the will of the owner…A slave is commonly regarded as an article of property, or chattel, and therefore can be sold or given away.” In A Respectable Trade the viewer sees the slaves eventually living in better conditions, eating healthier and with more comfortable clothing, nevertheless the clothing was very European and may have felt uncomfortable to them. Eventually, Francis feels compassion for the slaves, especially for Mehuru, and this is what drives her to make their lives more comfortable, if lives can be comfortable with out freedom. However, in the beginning of the business, they were treated poorly and often. It is important to remember that these better living conditions were not originally a result of Francis’s moral conscious Her motivations were more for economical reasons. When they moved to Queen’s square, she knew that they needed to take better care of them, so that when she advertised the slaves, they would look clean and subservient and as a result people would want to buy them. This contrasts with the movie Amistad. The slaves on the ship where mistreated horribly. The men were to be sold in large numbers, perhaps to plantation owners. They were not as concerned about their appearance and didn’t need to advertise them, as they knew that the slaves would be purchased in large numbers.
In both films A Respectable Trade and Amistad, the slaves are separated from their families and regarded as property as previously mentioned quote. In A Respectable Trade the group of slaves owned by the Cole’s are not all related, so one can conquer that they were separated from their families in Africa. In addition, even though they were not related they form a close family group, which is also separated as one member either dies or is sold. In Amistad, the main character is separated from his family in Africa. Even when he and the other slaves on the ship are found innocent and sent back to their country he returns to find more injustice. “Cingue returned to Sierra Leone to find his own people engaged in Civil War. His village was destroyed and his family gone. It is believed that they were sold into slavery.”
“Slavery is a societal institution based on ownership, dominance, and exploitation of one human being by another and reciprocal submission on the part of the person owned. The owner may exact work or other services without pay and virtually without restriction and can deny the slave freedom of activity and mobility…. Slaves do not come under the jurisdiction of laws that protect citizens. ” In Amistad, the slaves are treated horribly and in one case chained together and forced overboard, as there is too much cargo aboard. Certainly, this is an example of the lack of laws protecting the slaves. They are looked upon solely as chattel or goods. It is as though there is too much sugar on board and they simply toss it over without a thought in their minds other than the money that they just lost. There are also many cases in A Respectable Trade where slaves are killed, beaten and raped, and no action is taken against the aggressor. Towards the beginning of Josiah’s slave trade business, one of his best customers wants them to “have some fun with one of the slave girls.” Josiah acts as though he has total control over his house and demands that his protesting wife go and fetch one of the woman.
This case in which the slave woman was raped begins to exemplify the subject hood of slavery. When Josiah begins this business venture, others see him as a common man. He is not particularly handsome, rich or well educated. He does not carry any significant status in town, and by marrying Francis is hoping to build a name for himself in Queen’s Square. As his “Respectable Trade” begins to assemble his arrogance, greed and feelings of domination begin to increase. In the beginning he listens to Francis’s suggestions about who to talk with, how to act and how to manage the slaves. He knows that she is an important part of the investment, as she comes from “old money” and attracts the aristocratic businessmen that he desires. As time goes on however, Josiah forgets that it is Francis that helps him rise to Queen’s Square and to create his business. He becomes much more full of himself and begins to ignore her suggestions. In one instance, he wants to sell one of the slaves to a plantation owner. Francis pleads with him not sell the slave, as she knows that the master mistreats his slaves severely. Earlier, he would have listened to her, but now he becomes infuriated and says that instead he will sell the boy at auction to the highest bidder.
The viewer of A Respectable Trade observes many economic systems, primarily Slavery. The slaves are mistreated immensely on the ships and their freedom is stolen and becomes nonexistent. The subject hood of Slavery develops through Josiah’s behaviors and the slave’s reactions. Feelings emerged among slave owners that they are superior and that they should dominate. Once these feelings developed in the personalities of the slave owners they often become engrained in their culture. They have been carried through many generations and still exist today.

Works Cited
<> (10/22/00)


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