Page
  1. 1
    1
  2. 2
    2
  3. 3
    3
  4. 4
    4
  5. 5
    5
  6. 6
    6

19th Century Slave Narratives: When Literacy doesn't necessarily equal Freedom.

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

EXAMINATION NUMBER: 45002 19th Century Slave Narratives: When Literacy doesn't necessarily equal Freedom. The 19th Century was a difficult time for writers, with the number of writers increasing faster than the market for it (especially towards the end of the century). Several writers of the period (notably Henry James and Walt Whitman) berated the lack of a literary canon, feeling that there wasn't a typically American style of writing, that there was too great an influence from English writers, and promptly set about trying to create this distinctive American literature. They failed to notice, however, that there was already an existing canon of literature, based on true events; a style that stood out from the rest because it was written from the heart and helped to effect change across the country. The slave narrative was at first an abolitionist tool, a method of trying to show people the cruel nature of slavery, however the genre evolved until it was so much more - spanning the gap between autobiography and creative literature. Indeed, although most narratives follow a similar format, as more tales emerged, it was no longer enough to remain strictly autobiographical - a narrative's success relied on "the narrator's ability to create a common bond between reader and narrator"1. In this essay I intend to concentrate on two authors who created this bond between their narrators and their readers, with narratives that to this day remain the amongst the most widely read - and startlingly individual - slave narratives. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, was published in 1845 and became an instant bestseller, selling 30,000 copies within its first five years. ...read more.

Middle

As most narratives follow a very strict pattern, there was only so much room for manoeuvre within the blueprint, and as much as they were writing for a cause, "they were readers and self conscious producers of narratives that were intended as literary works of art - as autobiographical acts performed as much in the service of literary posterity as on behalf of a contemporary mass of enslaved Afro-Americans."10 Whilst Douglass' manuscript mostly follows this set pattern, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl broke the narrow boundaries completely, with the issues that she highlighted, and the particular brand of cruelty she showed the world. In the first instance, it was quite rare for a female ex-slave to publish her story - despite escaping to the predominantly anti-slavery North, she still had to face the same gender bias (African-American women were "strongly encouraged to adopt the attributes of piety, purity, domesticity and submissiveness that characterized the nineteenth century ideal of 'true womanhood.'"11) At the time there was still "a bias against women speaking in public or even publishing their idea in antislavery publications,"12 so Jacobs faced a huge amount of opposition to write her story. Then, when it came to her finding a publisher, she was told that for her work to be published, she would need Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Parker Willis, or Lydia Maria Child to write the preface and act as editor - only one of these prominent figures would be able to vouch for the truth in her words, as she was not likely to be believed. The fact that Jacobs does bring up issues regarding sexual exploitation and oppression is only one reason why it stands out from other Narratives - although these themes did raise much opposition to the text, which L. ...read more.

Conclusion

Due to the passing of Fugitive Slave Bill, the North and South became almost the same regarding slavery - you may escape from one to the other, but you still remain hunted, and legally a slave until your freedom is bought. Jacobs at least shows some incredulity that even to be free, she must be sold from one party to another: "So I was sold at last! A human being sold in the free city of New York!"21 Even though she was not bought for her services, but rather just to remain free for the rest of her life, it seems that this freedom is somewhat tainted: ownership does not tie her to Mrs. Bruce, however she still professes that "Love, duty, gratitude also bind me to her side. It is a privilege to serve her who pities my oppressed people,"22 Even though she is free, she still considers herself to 'serve', despite it being under wholly different circumstances. There is no doubt that literacy played an important part in the whole process of the escapes of Douglass and Jacobs: it planted the seed of hope of a better life, helped them to achieve that better life, and then enabled them to help others left behind by raising the profile of the cruelty of slavery, and proving that intelligence is not dependant on skin colour. However, it was also a means for the abolitionists to entrap them with narratives of a copybook structure. The racism they faced, was aided in some circles by their ability to read and write, but in others the prejudice ran too deep to combat. They technically achieved freedom, but at the price of being indebted to someone. Douglass wrote that literacy was his "pathway to freedom."23 It may have been a pathway, but it led not to freedom but the rocky road of a complicated future. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Paper-based media studies section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree Paper-based media studies essays

  1. My essay will analyse the heroes in the following four texts, The Epic of ...

    He too subsequently fails, as his anxiety makes him break his promise so she fades back into the Underworld a second time, for eternity. These are both examples of how myths encompass universal truths that survive throughout time. Two such truths include the fact that no individual can attain immortality on earth and no mortal returns from the Underworld.

  2. To what extent does the print-media influence young people into smoking, in relation to ...

    The Department of Health reported that 10% of 11 to 15-year-olds said they were regular smokers, who consumed at least one cigarette per week. In 1999 anti-smoking campaigners welcomed the figures which proved a 4% decrease in young smokers, however this has since risen.

  1. Representation of Black Women in Vogue UK: Is Fashion Racist?

    Apart from categorizing women into stereotypes, the article stereotypes women into white only. The only exceptions of ethnic minorities are Iman (Fig 11) and Freida Pinto. There are virtually no role models that black women can identify with or get inspired from.

  2. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate that Chomskys claim that the mass-media ...

    These economic constraints force mass-media corporations to allocate their resources to a few key areas including places such as city hall or police departments where news is likely to break and press conferences are often held which results in the reliance on official sources.

  1. To what extent do the texts Heart of Darkness, Black Mischief and A Passage ...

    argues that a great deal of English literature has contributed to certain binary opposites active in the minds of Westerners whereby colonised nations possess the opposite characteristics of the West. Hence if a British person is stereotypically organised, well mannered and honest then, as a result of the process of

  2. Press freedom gives journalists the right to present stories to the public that are ...

    Over 30 per cent thought it referred to information that the public should know, such as mistakes by government officials.7 17 per cent thought stories about the cosmetic surgery of a member of a leading pop group were in the public interest.8 The authors concluded that: "There did not seem to be any one firm definition of the term...

  1. What did reconstruction mean to African Americans?

    Reconstruction also saw a change in social groups. As the large communities from plantations began to split, African Americans looked to other means to create a community. This resulted in numerous clubs and societies being developed, examples being the Masonic lodge and the 'Voluntary Fireman's Association'.

  2. What is historical context and can texts be explained or enriched by considerations of ...

    Marlow's authority on his own narrative is set against the unnamed first person used to introduce him, just as the fiction as a whole is shadowed by Conrad's role in producing it. In this way the introductory passage which lets the reader know "to him the meaning of an episode

  • Over 180,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work

Marked by a teacher

This essay has been marked by one of our great teachers. You can read the full teachers notes when you download the essay.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review on the essay page.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review under the essay preview on this page.