While describing the fairs that used to take place in Goray, Satan in Goray uses the term "children of Ham" to mean the peasants (i.e. non-Jews):

In those days the grain merchants' bins were always full, and fat, white-bellied mice dined there; country whiskey at the taverns was mixed with whole buckets of water. All during the fair the children of Ham rejoiced in their own way. They danced with their women, pounding the floor with their feet, whistling and singing course songs.
Satan in Goray, part 1, chapter 4: "The Old Goray and the New" (translated by Jacob Sloan)

This is obviously a reference to these peasants being descended from Ham, one of the sons of Noach / Noah of flood flame (the Jews being descended from Shem / Sem, hence "Semitic"). Why does Singer choose to use this term, though? Why is he emphasizing the different line of descent from Noach / Noah here? Why is this important?


1 Answer 1


The 'curse of Ham' was used for many years to justify slavery (not just in the United States) and while 'the children of Ham' was often used to describe the black race generally, it was also sometimes used to describe the labouring class, especially those who were expected to know their place—and to stay in it!

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Wikipedia article titled Curse of Ham:

The story's original purpose may have been to justify the subjection of the Canaanites to the Israelites, but in later centuries, the narrative was interpreted by some Christians, Muslims and Jews as an explanation for black skin, as well as a justification for slavery of black people. Similarly, the Latter Day Saint movement used the curse of Ham to prevent the ordination of black men to its priesthood.

Elsewhere in Medieval Europe, the curse of Ham also became used as a justification for serfdom. Honorius Augustodunensis (c. 1100) was the first recorded to propose a caste system associating Ham with serfdom, writing that serfs were descended from Ham, nobles from Japheth, and free men from Shem.

  • Please provide some references to back up the claims made in this answer
    – bobble
    Commented May 29, 2022 at 4:46
  • Thanks for the info! How exactly does this relate to the use of the phrase in the book, though? What's being accomplished by the use of this term and what's it implying?
    – Mithical
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 4:47
  • I was assuming that the paragraph was contrasting the rich grain merchants and their fat mice (the elect) with the peasants and labourers, who were neither rich nor fat, but who could, briefly, during the fair 'rejoice in their own way'.
    – Barnaby
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 2:11

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