The book’s main theme is how slavery isn’t always maintained by physical means, but rather through threats and leverage. The owner of the land goes by the name of Jacob Vaark. In the beginning, he seems to be against slavery and does his best to avoid owning slaves for his farm, run by him and his wife. After speaking to a man at a tavern, Vaark realized that he could increase his wealth easily by farming sugar cane and owning slaves. This can be seen as power and wealth corrupting man archetype when Vaark thinks “Now he fondled the idea of an even more satisfying enterprise. And the plan was as sweet as the sugar on which it was based.” (Morrison 26). Vaark forgets a debt owed by a rich Spaniard by taking one of his slaves, and I believe that this is the event that triggers the corruption. Although Vaark doesn’t physically harm his slaves or treat them by color, race or legal status. Vaark posses his servants through the servants being culturally outcasts and threatened for sale, making them free, but also servants to Vaark. This crooked situation that Vaark has them in where they can leave if the please, but have no where else to go, is a new way to look at slavery. Although his servants are free,they wish to stay and work under him because of the other option being much worse. This idea gives the reader much to think about while reading the book, because slaves are generally the victims of racism and discrimination too.
The importance of literature is very evident in the book, as none of Vaark’s servants know how to read or write, until Vaark comes in possession on Florens. This is an important event in the book for the servants, because literature unlocks so much of the world, thus, giving Florens more freedom. This reveals another theme another theme in the book, linking freedom and literature, or knowledge. With this knowledge, Florens uses her rare skills for a slave to free herself.
Starting from page 8, Vaark mentions many times his lack of fancy clothes and dirty figure when in D’Ortega’s presence. To me, his dirty clothes represent the hard work he does and his integrity. In contrast, D’Ortega may look clean and in power, but as Vaark observes, “considering that his coffers were as empty as his scabbard?” (Morrison 18). I think that Vaark is not only observing the status of D’Ortega’s coffers, but also him as a whole person. During this encounter, Vaark realizes that the only difference between himself and D’Ortega, is the slaves he owns. This encourages Vaark to act more recklessly towards, D’Ortega, knowing that D’Ortega wouldn’t dare try to do anything against Vaark. This exchange of power is also a factor that adds to Vaark’s corruption.