Since grade school, students have been taught in their respective history classes about slavery. They were taught about the various aspects of slavery for example, the lack of formal and informal education, their mistreatment, abuse, both verbal and physical, and the everlasting slaughter of innocent slaves. Though there are occasions where one hears that there was a master that didn't mistreat and abuse his slaves. Those types of master-slave relationships were extremely rare. According to many text and history books slaves were often mistreated and abused on a daily basis. The question, now is, did the mistreatment and abuse of the slaves, in particular the women slaves, in the autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by Harriet Jacobs actually occur to that extent. Were slaves really treated in such a way presented by Ms. Jacobs in her autobiography? Slaves were definitely mistreated and abused by their masters and overseers, but what extent did that mistreatment and abuse actually go, is what needs a deeper look. Harriet Jacobs had to use a pseudonym, Linda Brent to be able to publish her autobiography. Ms. Jacobs will be referred to as Linda for the sake of this paper. The autobiography begins with Linda by stating the, "I was born a slave; but never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away". By this statement, one would begin to question, how could a child born into slavery not know that she was a slave? If one is born a slave, people would believe that mistreatment and abuse starts from, very early ages like around one and two years of age. According to Paul E. Scott, in the novel Slavery Remembered, "It was possible a young slave to grow well past infancy in a naïve, childish happiness, oblivious to the painful gulf between his blood relations and his master". (Escott, 29) Thus this statement validates, those of Linda. The master and mistress did not begin to instill in them at a young age that they were their property and they must obey their every command and wish. So for a child born into slavery and didn't know that she was a slave, as Linda describes, makes one believe that the mistreatment and abuse could not have been all that damaging and harmful. To have a general sense, it seems that slave children were aloud to grow, without the burden of being a slave or even a servant up until the age five or six which, coincides with the timeline given by Linda in her autobiography. After the age of five or six the, they are made to do minor household chores, and by the age of fifteen almost all slaves were at work on their regular tasks. Another mistreatment that fell upon slaves was their "right", or lack there of, to education. Slaves were not given any rights especially the right to learn, or be taught. For Linda to be taught, by her mistress of all people, how to "read and spell" is a far cry of mistreatment. Being taught to read and spell, would that count as mistreatment or the bettering of a slave that had no right to that knowledge. Later on in her autobiography, she claims to have taught herself. So which part of the autobiography does one side with, the part where she praises her mistress for teaching her to read and spell, or the portion where she makes the reader believe that she taught herself how to read and write. This is a large discrepancy, and truly makes a massive difference, in how one would view the rest of Linda's story. These kinds of discrepancies, makes the reader criticize all that Linda brings to our attention. There are slave narratives that can found, for example in Black Slave Narratives, which one slave remembers how her mistress taught her to read, but that there were other motives behind it, so that she would be able to spy upon the other slaves and write down all the "wrong doings" by the other slaves. (Bayliss, 65) Why did Linda praise her mistress by acknowledging the fact that she taught her how to read, was it to down play the mistreatment...
Cited: Bayliss, John. Black Slave Narrative. New York City: The Macmillan Company, 1970.
Escott, Paul. Slavery Remembered. Charlotte: The University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 1979.
Garrison, Mary. Slaves Who Dared. Shippensburg: White Mane Books, 2002.
Press, Arnco. Five Slave Narratives. New York: Arnco Press, 1968.
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Boston, 1861.
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