Tuesday, February 22, 2005
THE MANDINGO PROJECT-part two: chapters 6-14
Back for more, are ya? Well here's a summary of eighty-six more pages:
After being badgered by his father Hammond reluctantly agrees to marry a white woman and use her as a broodmare to generate an heir to the majesty that is Falconhurst, and in order to keep the bloodline as pure as possible he sets his sights on his second cousin, namely sixteen-year-old Blanche Woodford of the Crowfoot plantation. Hammond has not seen her since she was a toddler so he barely remembers her, but since he intends to go to the Coign plantation to borrow Big Pearl's father for stud work on his own daughter, he figures that he'll stop off at Crowfoot since it's on the way and “go sparkin'” after Blanche. Since it's a matter of custom for him to still have bed wenches, it's no skin off of his nose and all pretty much a business arrangement since white women physically repulse him. Also, Hammond's desire for a fighting nigger percolates…
Mem attempts to convince Hammond not to whip him for his recent transgressions, but his pleas fall upon deaf ears. Young Meg's obsequiousness continues to grow and he begs to be the one to apply the burning pimentade to Mem's raw wounds after the beating to come; Meg's hatred of Hammond's bed wench, Dite, begins to ferment and he tells Hammond in no uncertain terms that he wishes that his master would “pleasure” with him like he does with Dite. Hammond is thoroughly disgusted at that prospect and his reaction prompts Meg to wish that he were a girl so massa would fuck him.
Hammond finally gets around to Mem's promised whipping, aided by slaves Napoleon - Pole for short - and the ever-obsequious Meg, and the beating with a leather covered paddle is savage and damaging indeed, made worse by Napoleon mocking Mem's obvious misery. Meg is disappointed to see Hammond relinquish the actual task of the beating to Pole, thereby somewhat diminishing his fantasies of being beaten into near oblivion by his master. What remains hidden from the slaves is the fact that witnessing such “necessary” punishment makes Hammond ill, prompting him to call a brief halt to Mem's agony so that he can leave the barn and collect himself; more so than for his slaves, Hammond sought to prove his ruthless master role to himself and began to realize that he was too soft for the corporal punishment responsibilities of his job, or as he says to himself, “not cut out fer threshin' niggers.” That realization does not stop Hammond from resuming the beating, and Mem is whipped until his ass resembles bloody, pulped hamburger meat. That indignity is compounded by Meg happily applying the caustic pimentade to the gory wounds, a substance full of ground pepper in a solution that allows it to stick fast to the gaping lacerations, causing Mem unimaginable, screaming agony. Hammond then retires to his room and guiltily cries himself to sleep.
The young Maxwell soon embarks on his quest to borrow the old stud Mandingo from Coign, but first he stops off at Crowfoot to put his incredibly awkward moves on cousin Blanche. Blanche is the epitome of the southern belle found in many an antebellum romance fantasy; curly blonde hair, pretty as a peach, whiny and petulant until she gets her way, basically an obnoxious, drawling princess who you just can't wait to punch square in the gob. And Hammond's appraisal of his cousin/intended isn't exactly flattering:
He would have to get used to the whiteness of female flesh. Its pallor seemed to him not quite healthy, somehow leprous, cold. He knew the beauty of blondeness, but failed to appreciate it. He knew, moreover, that if he was to have a wife he would have to tolerate that she was white.
While riding to a church meeting Hammond and Blanche are caught making out by her older brother, the scrawny, “gotch-eyed” and obviously inbred Charles, and he is rather irate at the sight. He threatens to tell their father but Blanche wields a powerful hold over her brother thanks to “something he did” to her three years previous; he defers to her, but reminds her that they were both equally guilty - and more importantly, consensual - of their unnamed transgression and that there was nothing anyone could do about it anyway… Once Charles leaves, Hammond proposes to his cousin with a lack of enthusiasm that is truly staggering, and while she is clearly into it she suggests that he ask her father first.
Major Woodford tentatively agrees to let Hammond wed his daughter, provided that the elder Maxwell will lend him $5000 until harvest time; it turns out that the opulent Crowfoot plantation and all of its assets are mortgaged to the hilt and the banks are about to come crashing down on the Major. Hammond promises to have his father fork over half of the money in cash the minute he returns to Falconhurt.
That night Hammond bunks with Charles, who displays a friendlier aspect than early in the day. His earlier rudeness was due to realizing what Hammond would be getting into by marrying Blanche, and he informs Hammond in no uncertain terms that his sister is “pizen” and a manipulative bitch, to say nothing of the fact that she would never allow him to have a fighting nigger. Hammond doesn't care that she may be childish since all he wants her for is to bear his children, and he plans to use the fact that his father is bailing her family out of a major financial mess as his leverage against any of her uppity behavior. This reverie is interrupted by the arrival of two bed wenches, and Hammond is appalled to discover that Charles is a kinky motherfucker who seriously gets off on beating his wench before fucking her, and she of course feigns enjoyment of the abuse, but also enjoys her status as Charles' steady squeeze. Their obvious romantic attachment grosses Hammond out since it implies equality between master and slave, but while Hammond enjoys pleasuring with black women he looks upon it mostly as “a duty without pleasure and little satisfaction; mere detumescence, a voiding of accumulated waste.” Hammond uses his bed wench out of respect for his host's hospitality, but he is put off by Charles' lovemaking, and when he finishes with her he kicks the poor girl out of the bed and forces her to sleep on the chilly floor.
The next day, despite Blanche's tantrums, Hammond leaves for Coign, unwillingly accompanied by Charles who craves to see the world beyond Crowfoot. Needless to say Charles turns out to be immature to a fault and a royal pain in the ass, but for the time being Hammond has no choice but to put up with him since it would eat up a good deal of time to return to Crowfoot and drop him off.
Hammond and Charles are overwhelmed by the charm of the Coign and its owner, the decrepit Mister Wilson. Wilson is a pretty mellow old man who is quite content and resigned to the fact of his impending demise, and he is constantly attended by Old Ben - hands-down the most erudite and dignified slave character in the whole book - a servant whose bearing and excellent diction make Hammond feel inferior. Ben also happens to be Wilson's son, and only seventeen years his junior.
After initial pleasantries, Hammond gets to the point of his visit and discovers that the old Mandingo buck he wanted to borrow - Xerxes by name - was gored to death by a bull three months prior, but Wilson offers the services of a much superior specimen. The young Mandingo in question is Mede - named for Zeus' male love object, Ganymede - and he is a slave-fancier's wet dream; built like a Michelangelo work, smart (and fairly articulate for a character in this book), adoring of his master and thoroughly obedient. In other words, everything Hammond would want as both a stud and a fighting nigger. He agrees to purchase Mede for $2750 in cash that he will have sent from Falconhurst, and Wilson is quite amenable to the arrangement since he also needs money to cover the sizable debts incurred by his estate. Once the deal is sealed it is time for bed, and Hammond and Charles are offered the “use” of complimentary bed wenches.
The wenches arrive and are declared to virgins; Charles is excited by this prospect but Hammond is indifferent. He ends up with a plump, pretty light-skinned girl named Ellen and soon his indifference turns to genuine attraction. Ellen is sweet and smart, and most importantly she is not put off by his bad leg. An evening of some exploration is hinted at but it is made clear that Hammond did not take Ellen's virginity. The same cannot be said for the poor, scared girl on the receiving end of Charles' attentions.
The next morning Hammond readies to leave and offers to buy Ellen as his personal bed wench; Wilson agrees upon a $1500 price tag and throws in Ellen's “delicate like a wench” brother, Jason, as a present to the elder Maxwell. END OF CHAPTER 15.
By the end of chapter fifteen, all of the major players in the narrative have been introduced; there will be a few more who need to make an appearance, but all who figure into the real meat of the piece are now present.
Hammond's character becomes more pathetic with each page. The reader sees that he is a fairly decent guy but he has been ruined for life by his relative lack of education and growing up as a privileged son of the top of the slavery system food chain, and despite his oft-cited sense of his presumed natural superiority by nature of his whiteness even he realizes that he ain't all that. He's ignorant and his hygiene is terrible, a fact pointed out by mention of his not having bathed in a week because his father taught him that regular baths are unhealthy, nasty motherfucker…
The sequence in which Charles explains his enjoyment of beating wenches before having his way with them is stomach-churning to the extreme, and even Hammond is offended. When coupled with the knowledge of Hammond's squeamishness when dealing out corporal punishment, this scene really drives home the damage done to most of the white characters since virtually none of them would have taken umbrage at Charles' behavior, and Hammond's disgust over it makes him a bit more sympathetic to the reader since he too is a casualty of the system.
After his appalled contemplation of the offensiveness of Charles' intimacy with his at-home bed wench, Hammond's sudden ardor for Ellen comes as a bit of an odd twist, but much will occur as a result of it.
Mede is truly the stereotype of the "super-nigger" buck, and as if that's not bad enough he's also the equally-inbred brother of Big Pearl, a fact that Hammond decides not to reveal to either Mede or Big Pearl. Hey, what does he care as long as he gets a healthy "sucker" or two out of their incestuous coupling?
NEXT: The road trip back to Falconhurst and the plot sickens.