My Contraband

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My Contraband
Author Louisa May Alcott
Published 1863-??-??
Type Fiction, Short story
Genre Drama
Themes Civil War, Drama, Racism, Romance
Age Group Adult

My Contraband, originally titled the Brothers, is a short story written by Louisa May Alcott. It was written and published during the American Civil War and first printed in the November 1863 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The story is in the public domain.

In the story, a Union nurse named Miss Dane is tasked with caring for a Confederate Captain sick with typhoid, and she is given a former slave named Robert to help her. Robert is mostly white, Miss Dane assumes he has a single black grandparent, but that was enough for the South to view him as sub-human. However, Miss Dane is an abolitionist and tries to treat him as an employee rather than a slave, but things go awry.


Own?Compilation book.
Read?Compilation book.

This short story was included in a compilation book I bought. I knew of the author, but hadn't read anything by her, so I was curious to see what her writing style was like.

I was intrigued that the story is old enough to still use the British spelling of "draught" instead of the later American "draft."




— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The story is a good reminder of just how racist people were at the time. People on the Union side still view black people as inferior, to the point as referring to them as "contraband," and even an abolitionist like Miss Dane still has racist beliefs about black people. This tells us that even those trying to do right at the time still had a long way to go.
  • I enjoyed listening in on Miss Dane's personal thoughts about Robert.
  • It's an enjoyable reveal when we learning that Robert is the brother of the sick Captain and means to murder him.


  • Though it may be an very early example of it, the story is still little more than a the white savior trope.
  • The ending is a bit of a let down. All the chivalry of the Fort Wagner battle is glossed over, and Robert never gets his revenge.


  • Robert, during a fit of grief over his lost wife, asks Miss Dane if sparing his monstrous brother will cause God to reunite him with his Lucy. Miss Dane, either because she wants to save the Confederate Captain's life, keep Robert out of prison, or simply because she's a Christian, tells him she's sure of it. Either way, it's an inferior form of morality.


Strong female character?PassMiss Dane is not only a hard-working nurse, but also very progressive abolitionist for the time.
Bechdel test?FailThere is only one woman.
Strong person of color character?PassRobert takes matters into his own hands, but also shows mercy.
Queer character?FailThere are no queer characters.