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Slave narratives of Douglass and Jacobs: The search for freedom and personhood - Essay Example

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Slave narratives are primary sources that personalize the reality of slavery. Slavery can easily be reduced to the statistics of millions of people and families who suffered from this inhumane institution. …
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Slave narratives of Douglass and Jacobs: The search for freedom and personhood
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Download file to see previous pages Slave narratives, however, provide a human face for slaves and the physical, emotional, and mental tortures they go through, whether their slaveholders are sadists or not. This essay will analyze the purposes, main points, audiences, and similarities and differences of two slave narratives: Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave. Written by Himself by Frederick Douglass and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. The main purposes of these narratives are to inform the slaves, slaveholders, and society in general about their experiences of slavery and how inhumane it is to be a slave; to educate slaves that they can be free too, if they find the right support and faith; to highlight the importance of education to slaves’ freedom and identity; and to also explore their journey from being a property to being a human being. The main point of these narratives is that they expose that slavery is so inhumane that it dehumanizes both slaves and slaveholders/traders, with female slaves experiencing unique disadvantages because of their gender. Slave narratives serve personal and social purposes and have diverse audiences. These narratives serve to describe the individual and collective realities of slaves. For historians, these stories are rich sources of the intricate and intimate details of slavery, from their capture in other lands to their distribution and sale in America. The main audiences for Douglass and Jacobs are slaves, who must be awakened to their natural rights to life, freedom, and education. They are also writing to slaveholders and traders, because they must be shaken out of their convictions of the morality of slavery. Moreover, these former slaves write to inform and change the society; it must be inspired to eradicate the cancer that slavery is. Douglass explains that slavery has no rational basis, because it is based on the color of people’s skin and race. He also narrates how his master, Mr. Auld, have made him understand that education is key to freedom because it is decisive in attaining self-awareness and self-improvement. In Incidents, Jacobs narrates her life as a female slave and the double dilemma of being both a slave and a woman. As a mother, she makes painful decisions which she cannot justify, if it did not give her the freedom she needed to buy her children’s freedom. These narratives show the connection between slaves and other slaves, because they share the same tortures that no other human soul would have experienced. As slaves, male and females both lose their rights to freedom and independence. They work side-by-side day and night and do not even have sufficient basic necessities to have a respectable existence. Douglass relates how slaves get hold of little food and clothing for their strenuous toil. The child slaves are in worse conditions, because they do not have shoes or jackets. They are naked, but are expected to work as hard as adults. Jacobs describes the hunger that defines every slave’s working day: “The slaves could get nothing to eat except what [their masters] chose to give them” (Ch.1). These slaves work like oxen, but they eat less than oxen. Their physical degradation alone can dent their belief that they are human beings too. It was also ordinary for slaves to be killed or hurt as if they are not human beings. Jacobs remembers slaves who are flogged so roughly that they almost died: “Never before, in my life, had I heard hundreds of blows fall; in succession, on a human being” (Ch.1). Douglass also remembers the story of his Aunt, who was discovered with another man. He says: “[the master] commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending ...Download file to see next pages Read More
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