Critical Study of Rowson's "Slaves in Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom"

Essay, 2012

7 Pages, Grade: 14/20


Critical Study of Rowson’s

Slaves in Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom

Amine Zidouh [1]

Slaves in Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom (1794) is a play written by Susanna

Haswell Rowson. The setting takes place in “Barbary” – the Mediterranean coast of North Africa – and more precisely in Algiers. The play centers on the lives of several American

„slaves‟ who plot their escape in an unflappable look for freedom. The relevance of studying a piece of literature - and more precisely, a play - stems from the idea that people in the time, used to watch plays, more than they would read books because plays were regarded as being more „entertaining‟. In addition to that, although plays are a fictitious form of literature, they were always related to real events; hence the majority of people consider them as being true or as at least as referring to some real events. Another point would be that literature in that time was -often- judged on the basis of the moral values it contained. In that regard, Slaves in

Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom is a rich document to be scrutinized with as much

seriousness as when dealing with other sources that are considered as more „factual‟. Therefore the need to study such a piece emanates from its very crucial role in shaping social reality[2], via its representation of „Barbary‟ and its reflections over the nature of freedom, slavery and race.

Rowson‟s play does not only tell us about how Americans perceived themselves and the other. It also tells us about Americans‟ keen interest in knowing more about „Barbary‟. Rowson was known to endure financial difficulties in the exact period when the play was produced which can only support the argument that , due to the fact that she was writing with

a popular audience in mind, the topic could‟ve only been in vogue for her to decide to write about it. From the very beginning Barbary is portrayed as a very exotic place, full of riches, yet lacking one of the most basic tenets of civilized life, that is; „freedom‟. During a conversation between Selima and Fetnah,we notice that the latter answers in an intellectual way which we learn to be from an American teaching when she says “It was she, whonourishedin my mind thelove of liberty” (emphasis added, Rowson 13), she continues, “She came from that land, wherevirtuein either sex is the only mark of superiority –She was an American” (emphasis added, Rowson 14). From the very beginning of the play, we notice a contrast between „Barbaryas being a land of not only physical, but also mental enslavement;

as when she refers to Islam as a „Moorish Religion‟ that has been imposed on her[3], and

America, which is depicted as the land „where virtue… is the only mark of superiority‟ (Rowson 14). In the exception of characters whom have been „influenced‟ by American values. The typically „Barbarian‟ characters are depicted in all the grotesque ways possible. Ben Hassan is a Jew who, through his monologue, the viewer comes to judge as being “treacherous, greedy and poorly spoken” (Rowson 16). Even his way of speaking differs from

that of the Americans. He is a vicious character who describes „the Moors‟ as being “uncharitable dogs” (Rowson 23) when talking to Frederic[4]. Ben Hassanalso talks about his turning into a „Mahometanas being “the safest way” (Rowson 23) to make money out of slave business. From a contemporary readingBen Hassanbeing a Jew could‟ve easily labeled this play as being anti-Semitic. Ben Hassan‟s portrayal as being only fit for slave traffic due to his lack of intuition and sincerity represents Jews as being in contrast to the American and Christian values. „Barbary‟ in the play is clearly put in opposition to America, particularly in reference to it as being a place where „freedom‟ is an unknown concept.


[1] Graduate Student from Mohammed the 5th University, Rabat. Morocco.

[2] Post-structuralist theory recognizes the power of discourse to shape reality.

[3] (Rowson 16)

[4] A Christian who was seeking his help to buy a boat

Excerpt out of 7 pages


Critical Study of Rowson's "Slaves in Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom"
University Hassan II. Casablanca
Cultural History of Moroccan American Relations
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
1226 KB
Captivity, narratives, rowson, critical, slaves, in, algiers, struggle, for, freedom, white, slavery
Quote paper
Amine Zidouh (Author), 2012, Critical Study of Rowson's "Slaves in Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Critical Study of Rowson's "Slaves in Algiers; or, A Struggle for Freedom"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free