My Contraband And Brothers By Alcott Of all the atrocities, man has endured; none has caused more misery and destruction to the soul than human bondage, also identified as slavery. It is illustrated in Louisa May Alcotts story: “My Contraband,” originally published “The Brothers.” The Civil War was fought over slavery. It pitted brother against brother, but this did not kill these brothers, it was the deep and festering hatred they had for each other that sent them to their early graves. The story these individuals create is complex and depressing; the main character, Robert is a contraband (a slave who has come to the North to seek freedom). Instead of finding freedom, he finds his half brother Ned and his wife Lucy.
After the death of his master, Robert arrives from the South to freedom in the North to work in a hospital caring for wounded men of the war. His assignment is to help Miss Dane, a nurse, tend to a dying Rebel. Miss Dane appears to be the narrator in the story She is aware of Roberts troubled existence and observes despair from the moment their encounter. Upon their first meeting, she sensed sadness from deep within him she remarked, “I had seen colored people in what they call “the black sulks” when, for days, they neither smiled nor spoke, and scarcely ate. But, this was something more than that” (528).
Miss Dane appears to be a compassionate person; nursing comes easy to her and she lacks intolerance regarding Roberts color. She had wanted”to know and comfort him; and following the impulse of the moment I went in and touched him on the shoulder”(529). This is an example of her compassionate view of the contraband. She believed that “black boys are far more faithful and handy than some of the white scamps” (528). Robert is content to stay with the rebel even though he has typhoid.
When Miss Dane informs Robert that since he himself has never contracted this disease, he may become infected with it, he states, “It dont matter, Missis. Id rather be up here with the fever than down with those niggers; and there isnt no other place for me.” (530). For seven days, Miss Dane nursed the Rebel and for these seven days, he did regain consciousness. At times his presence could not be felt, until in his feverish state he begins to ramble on. At times his rambling would be incoherent other times she would be able to understand what he was saying.
On this night the Doctor is skeptical about his survival he instructs her to “Give him water as long as he can drink, and if he drops into a natural sleep, it may save him..Nothing but sleep or a miracle will keep him now..” (531). At that moment the Rebel called out for “Lucy” (531). Miss Dane felt “some new terror seemed to have gifted him with momentary strength” (531). She went to his side exclaiming, “Yes, heres Lucy” (531) this agitated the Rebel even further. It was evident when “His dull eye fixed upon me, dilating with a bewildered look he broke out fiercely Thats a lie shes dead, and sos Bob, damn him” (531).
Miss Dane dozed off, she awoke with a shock as she sprang up she felt “A strong hand put me back into my seat and held me there” (532). It was Robert, he stood there his “eyes full of sombre fire;” (532). Miss Dane was confused and stunned by these events. Robert was calm and told her “Sit still, Missus; I won hurt yer..but you waked up to soon (533). She “saw murder in his eyes” (533) and began to plead with Robert.
She questioned him “Why do you hate him? He is not your master” (533). Roberts reply, “Hes my brother” (533), astonished her. Even though she was trying to grasp this information, her mind was attempting to derive a plan to hang on to her life and the Rebels. Again, she pleaded with Robert only this time not for an explanation. She feared for her life and for the Rebels but seeing Roberts mind was full of revenge and hatred, she needed to know why.
She pressed Robert further until he agreed; he had been waiting to kill the Rebel until he found out about Lucy. Miss Dane questioned, “Whos Lucy” (534), his reply “My wife- he took her” (534) only incited her curiosity further. She persuaded him to tell her his life. Ned is his half-brother whom Robert declares “He always hated me, I looked so like old Marster; he dont” (534). He acknowledged that his father the Marster was kind to everyone “me, specially..”(534). When Robert saw Lucy at another plantation and the Marster found out the Robert liked her he bought her.
Robert married her and they developed a strong bond. This bond lasted only a short while. The death of the Marster changed Roberts life forever. This prompted the return of Ned who had been away. Finally Neds hatred pertaining Robert would now be revealed, any happiness Robert knew was going to be stripped from him.
First, Ned sold his mother to another plantation he seized Lucy for himself. Hatred began to seethe inside Robert he located Ned and declared, “I half murdered him an tonight Ill finish” (535). Ned felt he had achieved his final revenge by whipping Robert and the sale of him. Robert never saw Lucy again. He believed destiny reunited him with Ned. He waited for a chance to find out about Lucy therefore allowing Ned to live a little longer.
The omission by Ned that Lucy had “cut her throat” (532) was the ——-that Robert needed to cleanse his hatred of Ned. Roberts story brought out the compassion in Miss Dane. She was able to understand and feel some of the hatred Robert felt for Ned, as a human being she was aware that she must make every effort to keep Ned alive regardless of her feelings towards him. She appealed to Roberts inner yearning, the glimmer of hoe that Lucy may still be alive. He questioned her “Do you believe.
If I let Master Ned live, the Lord will give me back my Lucy (536). She replied, “As surely as there is a Lord you will find her here or in the beautiful hereafter, where there is no black or white, no master and no slave (536). This small amount of hope was what was needed to keep Ned alive, shortly. Miss Dane and the Doctor helped Robert start over. He enlisted in the 54th Regiment. He fought bravely taking risks, which pointed to his desire to die and join Lucy.
Miss Dane received a letter stating, “Ill fight fer yer till Im killed, which I hope will be fore long” (538). He was sent to fight at Fort Wagner. While there he spotted Ned “He was the fust up” (540) Ned shouted “Bob” (540). Robert shouted “Marster Ned” (540). He ran towards Ned who stabbed him with a sword in return Roberts fellow soldier did the same to Ned.
Miss Dane while she acknowledges that the act of murder is wrong at times, it is understandable. The world Ned and Robert were from was the same and yet they are opposite. The slave and the master will never be equal. Ned is allowed to inflict atrocities towards Robert that the modern man would never be expected to take. Yet it was allowed Robert was not considered a human by many.
They only thing these two brothers shared were the location of their death. They died at Fort Wagner; the war however played a small role. Their deaths began years before with the burning hatred that was smoldering inside each other. The atrocity of human bondage demonstrates how two men were treated so differently even though they had the same father and were raised on the same plantation. Their lives were miles apart.