Gender Specific Perspectives of the African-American Slave;
A Compare and Contrast Essay of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass.
The experiences, memories and treatment in any situation are viewed upon differently between a man and a woman. Obvious in the case of slavery, the two sexes were treated differently and so therefore their recollections of such events were-different. In the following short essay, we look closely at the perspective of the female slave, Harriet Jacobs in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”, and respectfully compared to that of a man slave, Frederick Douglass in “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”. Although both experienced their freedoms despite facing great adversity, being a slave woman offers a different perspective of a woman’s account of her disadvantages.
One way that Harriet Jacobs perceived slavery differently than Frederick Douglass is that as a child, she never even realized she was a slave. This could be a disadvantage because it could become a safety issue if she does not realize her “place” among the races as well as when she reaches an age of being able to labor and be sold; it would have a profound effect on her when she could have been more prepared. Within the first page of her autobiography, Jacobs states “I was born a slave; but I never knew it…” (281). She then goes on to state in a different line that “…I was so fondly shielded that I never dreamed I was a piece of merchandise…” (281). Jacobs’s father was head workman. He had the liberty to manage his own affairs and work at his trade. She lived in what she describes as a “comfortable home” and had relationships with her family members such as her brother, grandmother, mother and uncle. Frederick Douglass on the other hand, had already realized slavery was amidst him in his childhood. In the first paragraph of Chapter 1, Douglass states “A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood” (395). He took a very direct look at slavery whereas Jacobs was not even aware. We can see this when he does not understand and goes onto state why he “ought to be deprived of the same privilege” (Douglass 395). In Chapter 1 of “Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass”, he states “I have no accurate knowledge of my age…” (395).
Another way that Jacobs perceives slavery differently than Douglass is that she does not yearn for or look into the future for freedom as comfort for most of her life, as did Douglass. Instead, she looks for comfort of family. This could be a disadvantage because maybe she would have been able to escape with her children at a younger age so that she and her children could experience more years as a free people and she could have found comfort at times that her family was not able to be there for her. As Jacobs states in Chapter 2, paragraph 5, “…and strengthened by her love, I returned to my Masters” (284). Here, Jacobs is referencing her grandmother. Later, in Chapter 5, Jacobs states “I longed for someone to confide in. I would have given the world to have laid my head on my grandmother’s faithful bosom, and told her all my troubles” (288). Where Harriet looks to comfort in times of trouble, Douglass looks to the idea of freedom. Family was not an option for him. Douglass states In Chapter 5, paragraph 4 “I shall never forget the ecstasy with which I received the intelligence that my old Master had determined to let me go to Baltimore…” (407). Douglass is so excited to go to Baltimore because he has heard good things about Baltimore from his cousin Tom. He hopes of future happiness, learns of the possibility of wearing trousers, and hears of the city slaves being kept clean. This is perhaps his first experience towards freedom, and in Chapter 5, paragraph 11, Douglass states “Going to live at Baltimore laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity” (408)....
Cited: Douglass, Frederick. “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” The Norton Anthology
Of African American Literature. Ed.Gates and McKay. 2nd ed. New York: W.W.Norton
&Co., 1996. 385-483
Jacobs, Harriet. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” The Norton Anthology of African
American Literature. Ed.Gates and McKay. 2nd ed. New York: W.W.Norton&Co.,
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