Harriet Jacobs

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“The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead” (Power 1), Aristotle knew the importance of education; especially literacy. Literacy is what stood between the slaves and the slaves owners. However, some of the enslaved were fortunate enough to possess more intelligence than their owners knew. Harriet Jacobs is one of the few that shared the knowledge of literacy and she knew the power that this held. She used this as her driving force to push through all of the hardships a slave had to endure on a daily basis. Jacobs account in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl truly depict the power of literacy.

As a young girl Jacobs learns of her fate to come. “When I was six years old, my mother died; and then, for the first time, I learned, by the talk around me, that I was a slave” (Jacobs 10). Jacobs blesses her first mistress, Margaret Horniblow, for teaching her to read and spell. From this early age Jacobs begins to see that language and reality are intertwined. Through this interconnected thinking Jacobs discovers how to decode both the word and the world. This causes bitterness towards her mistress Margaret, when she teaches her the bible. “My mistress had taught me the percepts of God’s word: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.’ But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor” (Jacobs). Jacobs realizes that her mistress does not view her as her neighbor and in turn doesn’t view her as a human being. The hypocrisy shown to her through the bible infuriates Jacobs. This leads Jacobs to question literacy as a possible pathway to freedom, however, Jacobs ability to read and write never sets her free.

“Education makes people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave” (Power 1). Henry Peter, Lord Brougham explain this in “The Present State of the Law”; this statement holds true to the way...
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