In the novel Middle Passage, Charles Johnson illustrates an entire world at sea, free of regulation, full of corruption, with harsh living and the extreme mistreatment of African slaves. In the novel there are many instances that seem to be strictly in the realm of fiction, however, this is not the case. Many of the scenarios that occur in Middle Passage such as kidnapping and intolerable living conditions, are paralleled in the actual history of the Middle Passage. While there was slavery throughout World History, never had it reached such an epic proportion as during the transatlantic slave trade. During the 17th century, an estimated twenty-five to fifty million Africans died at sea. In this essay I will compare and contrast Charles Johnson's novel with the historical parallels of the actual Middle Passage, such as: Abuse, mutiny, and harsh life at sea. I will also prove that Johnson's political commentary is human nature has presented itself throughout history as having the desire for domination and self-interest, as well as a need for survival.
The Middle Passage was a term used to describe the triangular route of trade that brought Africans to the Americas and rum and sugar cane to Europe. During the 17th and 18th century, the demand for slaves was at its peak. European slave traders quickly provided the labor needed. The potential of earning a small fortune in the slave trading business was enough of a profit for traders to disregard the fact that Africans were humans. In 1760, in some markets, a trader could sell a male slave for 50 pounds, which was enough to live comfortable for one year. With the promise of making a more than a decent living from the slave trade, it became a profitable career despite its inhumane nature. .
Those involved in this sort of practice justified their efforts by looking at Africans as less than human. This allowed one to dull his or her ethical instincts and embrace the self-absorbed facets of human nature and desire for domination that is the underlying political commentary of Middle Passage.