Harriet E. Wilson

Our Nig

  • 33-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 12 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with over two decades of experience
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Our Nig Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 33-page guide for “Our Nig” by Harriet E. Wilson includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 12 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Persistence of Structural Racism in Black Enslavement and Freedom and Spiritual and Personal Transformation.

Plot Summary

Our Nig: Sketches from the Life of a Free Black is an autobiographical novel first published in 1859 by Harriet E. Wilson. Rediscovered by renowned African-American literary critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in 1981, it was republished and redistributed with wider appeal than its initial publication.

The autobiographical novel tells a fictionalized version of Wilson’s life story through the character of Frado, who is also known as “Nig” by other white people. Frado is born to a white woman named Mag Smith and a black man named Jim. When Jim passes away, leaving Mag more impoverished than before, Mag decides to leave young Frado in the care of the Bellmonts, a wealthy white family in town. The Bellmonts decide to put Frado to work. Mrs. Bellmont and her daughter Mary cruelly abuse Frado. They believe her to be beneath them due to her black and mixed-race identity.

In the Bellmont household, Frado endures the violence of Mrs. Bellmont and Mary while also making allies with children Jack, James, and Jane, as well as Mr. Bellmont’s sister, Aunt Abby. James and Aunt Abby in particular become invested in Frado’s spiritual education, believing that religious instruction will help her learn her worth in the world and arm her against their family’s abuse. James promises to take Frado away from the Bellmont house but becomes sick and dies shortly after this promise. Devastated, Frado relies on Aunt Abby to complete her religious education.

When Frado turns 18 years old, she is no longer legally bound to the Bellmonts. She endures many trials in trying to find work outside of the Bellmont house and falls sick intermittently over the next few years. She marries a black man named Samuel, whose constant absence and eventual passing does not provide her sickness with any relief. Finally, when she manages to recover from her illness, she seeks an instructor’s help to learn the craft of making straw bonnets and begins making money for herself through this enterprise. Along the way, she fulfills her spiritual education. With renewed sense of herself and a growing community of friends, she gains the confidence to start her own black haircare business.

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Chapters 1-3