Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all involved in the subject of slavery was the disastrous break-up of families that so often occurred within the dynamic. It had been seen a number of times, as slaves were considered property and therefore did not have a right to remain with one another of their own personal accords unless they had achieved freedom. This atrocity brought about a heinous percentage of families that were shattered in order to be torn apart and to work for separate masters or, even, left by the free will of a slave in order to gain their own freedom.
Harriet Jacobs was one such person, who sought after freedom so deeply that she found herself torn between the duty to her own children and the necessity for a personal sense of liberty. Under the pseudonym of Linda, she writes an autobiography of herself and her hardships during her time of slavery. It is during this time that she has two children by Mr. Sands, a white neighbor who she agrees to an affair to, though she longs for nothing more than to go north. This dream is turned into nothing but a fantastical belief when she comes upon the realization that she cannot escape with two small children, and instead chooses an alternative for herself.
It is at this point that the struggle between Linda’s sense of self and Linda’s sense of family can be so clearly seen. She hides out in the attic of Aunt Martha, the grandmother she loves so terribly dear, and instead chooses to watch her children grow within the shadows of obscurity, like some ethereal sort of specter carefully surveying them dutifully. She decides upon this when Aunt Martha coerces her that it would be a repulsive and shameful decision to leave behind two little ones, and so Linda decides to refuse to succumb to the cruelties of her masters and, yet, also remain bound by the threads of life she, herself, has created. Linda’s feeling of obligation is not yet enforced until Aunt Martha brings it to her attention, and it is the admittance and guilt that she feels that proceeds to keep her reigned into slavery for their sake.
The instance of slavery and the forcible tearing apart of families has been a recurring theme in literature throughout several different novels. Though it does not present itself in a situation of color, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy deals with one such instance. The novel opens up with Michael Henchard, a gentleman who, in a liquor-driven stupor, argued with his wife and then continues on to vengefully sell them to a sailor for a price of five guineas, a very famous opening scene in a novel that wastes absolutely no time getting down to business in order to set the tone and mood of the book and make very clear the major points that will drive the plot along.
It is this situation that causes him to swear off alcohol and refuse to touch the stuff for the rest of his natural life. However, this instance that has begun the plot has also driven Henchard to develop traits and qualities that would otherwise be frowned upon and discussed ill by the society. Though he is well renowned for his staunch and absolutely unmovable sobriety, Henchard still maintains unsavory traits that are frowned upon in the character of one who is supposed to be the mayor of Casterbridge. He is secretive and sneaky, frequently experiences outbursts of the violent nature and remains selfish in spite of his shun for alcohol. One could easily argue that these traits and this descent into negativity might have been avoided had he still had his wife and his infant daughter by his side to steer him down a path perhaps not as successful but much more virtuous.
It was not an uncommon or strange occurrence in slavery days to break up a family without a second thought: This very strongly included the separation of mothers from children especially at a very young age. After all, since slaves were viewed as nothing but property they did not...