Friday, April 12, 2013

Angelina Baker - A Love Lost

Reading the lyrics to Stephen Collins Foster's "Angelina Baker" (1850), one can not help but empathize with the slave narrator's loss.

In the opening stanza the man relates that he was a top worker on the plantation. But then he met Angelina Baker and fell in love.

The second stanza relates that the narrator saw Angelina seemingly everywhere he went. He saw her at her best (at the ball), and probably at her worst (in the cornfield), but no matter what, every time she was smiling. However, his heart was broken and he was "left to weep a tear" when Angelina went away.

The narrator gives his impression of Angelina in the third stanza by stating how tall and fine she was and that she liked the boys on the plantation as well as they liked her. The last line of this stanza is interesting in that the narrator says Angelina used to pester the master about freeing his slaves.

In the final stanza, on an otherwise perfect day, the narrator is at loss as to understand why "She's gone away."  He has no idea where to look for her because he does not know why she left. Looking between lines, a reader of the lyrics might conclude that the master sold Angelina away for some reason - maybe because she used to bother him "for to free dem." Regardless of why Angelia is gone, the narrator is broken-hearted and left with only tears and destined to play the jawbone (an improvised slave percussion instrument) to pass the time.

When one hears minstrel songs, slave empathy does not usually come to mind. But through several of his songs (Old Folks at Home, My Old Kentucky Home, and Angelina Baker) Foster showed that, regardless of popular white nineteenth century beliefs, plantation slaves had feelings too.

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