Understanding Slave Narratives
Slave narratives depict of a time in history where African American were suffering from a cruel life of servitude. Olauduh Equiano and Harriet Jacobs both describe the events of their lives in their narratives. Equiano degrades himself in “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olauduh Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself.” Jacobs refuses to submit to the chains of slavery. They both have powerful messages in their stories that they want to convey to their readers about slavery. Equiano and Jacobs come from two different time periods of slavery. They have completely different writing styles. As many would say, Jacobs and Equiano are completely different authors in the ways they used to convey their messages.
Harriet Jacobs comes from the final era of slavery. Even though her story “Incidents of a Slave Girl” makes seem like a work of fiction, but she writes about her life through an assumed name of Linda Brent. Jacobs wrote this narrative to shed some light on the victimization of female slaves at the hand of their white masters. Female slaves suffered more than male slaves. Male slaves were only beat, but female slaves were beaten and raped. Jacobs describes a horrible realization in her life, He peopled my young mind with unclean images, such only a vile monster would think of. I turned from him in disgust and hatred. But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with him—where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature. He told me I was his property; that I must subject to his will in all things. (216) For Jacobs to accomplish conveying her message, she was truthful in the events she described to show the world that female slaves fought to keep what little freedom they had within slavery; “Jacobs felt obliged to disclose through her firsthand example the special injustices that women suffered under what sentimental defenders of slavery often referred to as the ‘patriarchal institution’” (Gates Jr. and McKay 207). Jacobs’s message to her readers was to bring attention to the cruelty that female slaves went through during slavery.
Unlike Jacobs, Equiano had a different objective in mind when writing his narrative, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself” depicts of his life in Africa and through his time in slavery. Even though the tone of his narrative seemed nonchalant, he wanted his readers to be aware of the truth behind slavery. Equiano’s purpose of the narrative was to gain support to have slavery abolished, “may the God of heaven inspire your hearts with peculiar benevolence on that important day when the question of Abolition is to be discussed, when thousands of, in consequence of your Determination, are to look for happiness or Misery!”(140). For Equiano to accomplish his objective for his narrative, he appealed to the whites as someone who was inferior to them in hope of gaining sympathy for the ones who were still trapped in slavery. Equiano strived to convey to his readers that slavery needed to be abolished.
There are a few similarities between Equiano’s and Jacobs’s narratives. They both were lucky enough to experience some form of happiness or kindness as a slave. Equiano describes one of his brief moments of happiness, When meal-time came I was led into the presence of my mistress, and ate and drank before her with her son. This filled me with astonishment; and I could scarce help expressing my surprise that the young gentleman should suffer me, who was bound, to eat with him who was free, and not only so, but he would not at any time either eat or drink till I taken first, because I was eldest” (155). Jacobs was very blessed most of her life as a slave, and it was not until she was older she started to face many hardships. She depicts of a point in her childhood she felt the happiest, “my mistress was so kind...
Cited: Equiano, Olaudah. "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olauduh Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself." Trans. Array The Norton Anthology of African American literature. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. First edition. New York, N.Y.: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 1997. 140-164. Print.
Gates Jr., Henry, and Nellie McKay. The Norton of African American Literature. First edition. New York, N.Y.: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 1997. 207. Print
Jacobs, Harriet. “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." Trans. Array The Norton Anthology of African American literature. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. First edition. New York, N.Y.: W.W Norton & Company, Inc., 1997. 209-239. Print.
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