Throughout Fred D’Aguiar’s factually-based novel one character is described and portrayed in full detail and complexity: Mintah. D’Aquiar’s novel chronicles the events aboard the slave ship Zong, where—under orders by Captain Cunningham—the crew throws 132 slaves overboard. In theory, Captain Cunningham issues the orders to “save” the rest of the crew and slaves from disease. In reality, the captain decided they will save on rations by reducing their “stock” and that the slaves, weakened by disease, would fetch more money (from the insurance company) dead than alive.
Of the 132 slaves thrown overboard, Mintah is the only one able to save herself. In saving herself from an almost certain death, Mintah becomes an enigmatic figure: part ghost, part savior, part pariah, part historian. Mintah’s role already differed from those of the other slaves because she could speak and write English. Further, she knew the First Mate Kelsal’s unsavory past and is able to “name” him, figuratively and literally. It is her knowledge of Kelsal, more than her rebellion, which prompts Kelsal to order her overboard initially. Mintah’s story, both before being thrown overboard and afterwards, form the novel’s core.
Most of the imagery and symbolism used throughout the novel, relate to Mintah’s vision of her world, a world comprised of sea, land, and wood. In simple terms, the sea represents death and despair; land, a lost paradise; and wood, hope and salvation.