Biography and History: Harriet Jacob's the Life of a Slave Girl

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Biography and History: Harriet Jacob's The Life of a Slave Girl

To be a good writer, you must possess
a careful balance between detachment
and association, a delicate waltz where you are not so wrapped up in the events of a story that it alienates the reader, and yet not so far separated from the subject matter that the readers cannot get into it. This is espectially the case in an autobiographical narrative. In this case, it is very difficult to detach yourself from the main subject matter, that is, yourself. Yet it must remain a story, and the story at its heart is a reconstruction of facts from the memory of the author. In the case of Harriet Jacobs, it was also important that she make sure the readers understood slavery from a woman's perspective. The hardships she had to endure not only entailed the work and the punishments, but also the sexual aspect of being a slave-girl. Her task is difficult, because in order for the reader to really understand her position as a woman and a slave, she must make the story extremely personal. If it is too personal, however, the reader looses sight of the bigger picture, and does not relate all these hardships to the condition of the general female slave. She accomplishes this in two ways, through her writing style, and the writing content. The style that the novel is written varies from a dialogue to a narrative, depending on the subject matter being written about. For example, the dialogue where Mrs. Flint confronts Linda (Jocobs) and asks her what has been going on with her husband is handled very effectively, because as a conversation between two people, we are able to pick up on the nuances of meaning. Also, it makes the situation seem to the reader as very exhilarating, because we don't know what's going to happen next. Two paragraphs later, though, the story has turned back into narrative, because Jacobs is trying to examine the entire situation in her present day, as a free woman. She...
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