A Different Take on “Flesh”

In Rachel’s post, she points to the etymology of the word “flesh” in the lines “Jacob flinched.  Flesh was not his commodity”.  She suggests that when he does trade enslaved people, he views them as bodies; as fungible, mutually interchangeable, as in without individual personhood.  

I’d like to examine these lines through a different lens. If I remember correctly, Dr. McCoy suggested in class that this line may give the reader insight into how Jacob makes peace with the violence he takes part in.  He says he only trades commodities which are raw goods such as gold and coffee.  Jacob has a physical reaction to the suggestion that D’Ortega settle his debt with enslaved people.  He winces and says he does not trade flesh (25). This suggests that he does not want to trade enslaved people.  He is content with trading raw goods.  However, these goods are produced through the violent exploitation of enslaved people.  Therefore, he does trade in flesh.  He is an integral part of the capitalist loop that upholds chattel slavery.  The line “flesh was not his commodity” is untrue not only because he ends up settling his debt through the trade of a human, but because he profits directly from the system he’s attempting to reject.

Jacob attempts to distance himself from trading enslaved people.  However he is caught in the very system.  Later Jacob becomes nauseous and angry when he and D’Ortega “inspect” enslaved people with whom D’Ortega tries to settle his debts (26).  Here, Jacob comes face-to-face to the people whose pain he profits from.  He cannot hide from the truth that he gains directly from violence they these people endure.  Additionally, he confronts D’Ortega’s perpetration of such violence.  As the degrees of separation close, and the ignorance is informed, Jacob cannot hide from the violence he commits.


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