Comparative Evaluation in Slave Life: Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass

Topics: Slavery in the United States, Slavery, Frederick Douglass Pages: 6 (2553 words) Published: December 14, 2005
This paper is a comparative evaluation I did between the autobiographical experiences of two former slaves, Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass, were both written during the same time period (the former in 1861, the latter in1856). These two books are compelling works of African American Literature. They are depressing but at the same time hopeful, discouraging but uplifting. Both authors go into many aspects concerning the brutality of slavery, but I have thoroughly reviewed and am about to go over only a few in this analysis. Some of the more pertinent issues are a slaves childhood, the effect of gender on a slaves life, the different types of work the two slaves did, the time period they lived in and the effect of the region the two slaves lived in.

The childhood of a slave can be both fair and cruel. Frederick Douglass' and Harriet Jacobs' childhoods couldn't be more opposite. When Harriet was growing up in her "comfortable home" as she calls it, she was completely shielded from slavery. Her Father was an extremely good and accomplished carpenter and he was allowed to provide for his family, minus a percentage that went to his mistress. Harriet, or Linda Brent as she refers to herself in the book, is completely unaware of her inherent bondage into slavery. Not until she is six, when her mother dies and when she takes her place at the side of her mistress, does she realize the reality of slavery. Frederick Douglass, on the other hand, didn't have such a blissful childhood. He was born a mulatto, or a child with a parent of each race (usually this came from the white master raping his black slave). Because of his

heritage Douglass was moved away from his mother's master and, obviously, away from his mother. This was due to the fact that it was so apparent at the time that when a slave had a fair child, or mulatto, the father was almost always the master of that slave. This usually enrages the slave owner's wife; and the slave owner usually sells the child away to appease her. This awful tradition is the reason why Frederick only saw his mother 4 or 5 times before she died. He was not allowed to attend the funeral nor did he ever own a picture of her. Also, growing up, Harriet's mistress and Douglass' master were also quite different towards them. Harriet's mistress was her mother's mistress, and a very kind hearted women. She promised Harriet's mother that her children would be released at her death, which turned out not to be true but the fact that she said it was a bold statement at the time. When Frederick was growing up, before he moved to Baltimore, his life was awful. He constantly heard slaves being whipped and tortured, it seems more so often than Jacobs', for seemingly harmless problems and mistakes. He was provided with one shirt that dropped down to his knees, and some slave children had no cloths at all. Families slept on rock hard concrete floors and only some had blankets. When reviewing the circumstances of each individual's childhood, I think Harriet just got very lucky in her early childhood and her years up until she was twelve. I say this because Jacobs' is constantly speaking of other plantations through her book that are very near her own master's estate. She speaks of a man named Mr. Litch, who was extremely cruel to his slaves, along with other neighboring slaveholders who were equally cruel to their slaves. Although Jacob's childhood was seemingly content, her teen and adult years were full of harassment and ridicule. Harriet's Childhood was obviously pretty good, especially for a slave girl. But it was her teen years and her years as an early adult that really affected her mentally and emotionally. Jacobs' put an extreme amount of weight on her argument that women slaves have it far worse than male slaves, and I fully agree with her argument. Throughout...

Bibliography: Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover Publications, 1995.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Dover Publications, 2001.
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