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Who is Under Bondage? (analzying A Respectable Trade and The Mission)

Posted by Loren Robertson on December 2, 2002 at 21:04:22:

Who Is Under Bondage?

In analyzing two films, A Respectable Trade and The Mission, the oppression of the slaves and the indigenous people of the Guarani is strikingly blatant. The cruelty of the slave owners in A Respectable Trade and the Spanish and Portuguese who killed the Gauarani tribe in The Mission probably provokes disgust in the emotions of the viewer. Yet perhaps sympathy could also arise for a less obvious third party. Though the lives of the slaves were not their own, Francis Scott, their manager, was under bondage as well, in her own marriage. Though the Guarani were subject to either slavery or the converting of their lives to Christianity, the Jesuits, those that were responsible for converting them, were also bound to the decisions of another, in this case the church as an institution. The difference in the bondage of these two parties is that the slaves and Gauarani did not have a choice, whereas Francis and the Jesuits did. Despite their decisions to bind themselves to another entity, though, Francis and the Jesuits faced their own oppression. Yet, Francis and the Jesuits managed to exert their own control over the slaves and the Guarani while still being ultimately subjected to the contracts they voluntarily agreed to. They acted against their oppressors.
Francis Scott in A Respectable Trade puts herself under bondage from the very moment she decided to get married. Francis asked for a job as an instructor and ended up with a slave-trading husband. Josiah was interested in her higher social status so as to boost his trade and wealth and perhaps move “across the river” with the wealthier class people. Little did Francis know she would be instructing slaves. This social process leads to the fact that, when analyzing their marriage in a class perspective, the relationship is feudal. Francis had a contract to serve Josiah in a specific way, and as her uncle warned her, she became Josiah’s property. As a feudal relationship, Josiah controlled the surplus from the profit of the slaves, and Francis received an allowance for managing them. Though Francis had a higher social status and education, ran the household, and even supposedly co-partnered with her husband, Josiah still had the ultimate control. This is illustrated from the very beginning of their marriage when Josiah and a fellow merchant raped one of the slaves, despite Francis’s plead. His control in this feudal class process is further exemplified through the fact that Josiah ultimately made all the economic decisions despite Francis’s influence. As Francis began to develop emotional attachment to her slaves, the oppression of her husband became much more apparent.
The Jesuits were under another kind of bondage. In The Mission, it was apparent that the Jesuits were restricted by the church as a community. In analyzing this relationship through class structure, it was a communal process. The church essentially controlled the surplus created in the community at the Mission. Similar to Francis, the Jesuits probably received an allowance of some sort, enough for them to survive and continue building the Mission. Though it was the Jesuits who created this new community for the Guarani, converted them, and protected them from slavery, the ultimate control went to the Church. The cultural and environmental processes going on in Spain and Portugal at that time affected the Church’s decisions. Though slavery was illegal in Spain, the 1750 Treaty of Madrid relocated the territory occupied by the Jesuits’ Mission to Portugal, where slavery was legal. As long as the Guarani were under the church, they were protected from slavery. Yet, the Church wanted peace with both Spain and Portugal and to keep its power. The Church told the Jesuits to make the Guarani leave and abandon the mission and the Jesuits could do nothing about it. The Guarani refused to leave their new home and, eventually, the whole community was killed and burned. Like Francis in A Respectable Trade, the Jesuits developed emotional attachment to the indigenous people, and their oppression by the Church’s perhaps not so purely God-directed decisions became very evident by the end.
Though Francis was under a certain contract to her husband Josiah, she still exerted control in many ways over the slaves. When the slaves first arrived, they were kept in the cellar in chains on the floor. Francis made Josiah change their living environment to make their lives slightly more decent. They slept in beds, they were taught in the living room instead of the kitchen, and eventually had better uniforms and were given names. Though Francis made the slaves’ lives better, the oppression continued. Through this environmental and cultural process, Francis became an important link in the class process of slavery here as she transformed these slaves from “savages” to decent servants that could be sold. Yet, Francis came to realize the reality of their lives while falling in love with one of the slaves, Mehuru. For example, they didn’t need names because they had their own, along with their own culture and background. Their oppression and mistreatment became almost unbearable to Francis, who ultimately could not do anything more to help them, as she too was under Josiah’s control. Finally, Josiah fell so much into debt that he lost control over his own well being, let alone the control over his “property.” The slaves escaped to London, along with Francis, though she died before she got there. Both the slave and feudal class processes were broken in this situation due to the failure of Josiah economically and the courage of Francis and the slaves.
Like Francis, the Jesuits exercised control over the Guarani, despite their bondage to the church. They brought these indigenous people out of the jungle and built a community of newly converted Christians. This protected the Guarani from the slave traders that hunted them. Yet, this cultural and environmental process ultimately harmed them. While the Jesuits had a pure desire to help these people, the Church itself wanted to increase its power and expand its numbers. Then, in order to protect itself as an institution, the Church wanted to discontinue the Mission. But once the Guarani became settled, they did not want to return to the jungle, and they ended in destruction. Some Jesuits put down their titles and fought with the Guarani. Still, the Guarani would have been better off without the Mission and the Jesuits in the first place. The Jesuits, though, were successful in the conversion of the Guarani and the creation and control over the Mission, and some acted against the Church when under its oppression.
Both Francis and the Jesuits did exert some kind of control over the slaves and the Guarani while under the power of their class processes. Yet, the slaves in A Respectable Trade made it to London, but Francis, though she left her husband Josiah, died too soon. The Jesuits in The Mission, whether they decided to fight against the Church or not, were all killed, along with the Guarani tribe. Was the bondage really broken? Regardless of their ability to exert control over the slaves and Guarani, their own oppression disabled true success. The social processes intermingling with the economic processes in these films illustrated this disability.




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