The Slave Narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs

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The slave narrative differs from earlier African-American literature because it directly highlights the pain of slavery and forces the reader to experience the truth of what it is like to be an American slave. Instead of simply expressing emotions caused by black oppression and the struggle to gain recognition and appreciation as a race, as in the works of early African-American writers, slave narratives give readers insight to the inhumanity of slavery. They illustrate the painful lives that slaves lead and ultimately what they will experience to gain freedom. Frederick Douglass wrote his testimony on the life of a slave in his work, "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass". Harriet Jacobs is another African-American writer and freed slave whose narrative, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" parallel that of Douglass'. These works share many of the same characteristics of slave narratives. They both contain descriptions of their cruel and unrelenting masters, accounts of whippings and punishments, as well as their successful escape attempts. Although their accounts differ in many ways, they all contain a unifying message and purpose in the narrative.

In both the Jacobs and Douglass texts, the slave masters played a very important role. Throughout the Jacobs narrative, her master, Dr. Flint, constantly harasses her. Jacobs explains her day-to-day struggle with the sexual desire of her unrelenting master. As a young slave, Jacobs feels like she has no way to escape this torment. She goes to many extremes in her attempt to escape Dr. Flint's tight grasp, such as having a baby by a free white man. Jacob's struggle makes her readers sympathize with her in no way that earlier African-American writing had. The sentiment that she draws is exclusive to slave narratives because they are so personal. Douglass's narrative highlights a different view of the slave master. First, in the Douglass text, many masters are spoken of. He was a slave in...
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