Harriet Jacobs Essay

Harriet Jacobs Essay-31
Gender considerations account not only for many of the differences in style and genre that we see in Douglass’s and Jacobs’s narratives, but also for the versions of slavery that they endured and the versions of authorship that they were able to shape for themselves in freedom.Douglass was a public speaker who could boldly self-fashion himself as hero of his own adventure.Stowe’s genius lay in her ability to harness the romantic melodrama of the sentimental novel to a carefully orchestrated rhetorical attack against slavery, and no abolitionist writer in her wake could steer clear of the impact of her performance.

Gender considerations account not only for many of the differences in style and genre that we see in Douglass’s and Jacobs’s narratives, but also for the versions of slavery that they endured and the versions of authorship that they were able to shape for themselves in freedom.Douglass was a public speaker who could boldly self-fashion himself as hero of his own adventure.Stowe’s genius lay in her ability to harness the romantic melodrama of the sentimental novel to a carefully orchestrated rhetorical attack against slavery, and no abolitionist writer in her wake could steer clear of the impact of her performance.

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Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs: American Slave Narrators Lucinda Mac Kethan Alumni Distinguished Professor of English Emerita, North Carolina State University National Humanities Center Fellow ©National Humanities Center During the last three decades of legal slavery in America, from the early 1830s to the end of the Civil War in 1865, African American writers perfected one of the nation’s first truly indigenous genres of written literature: the North American slave narrative.

The genre achieves its most eloquent expression in Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave and Harriet Jacobs’s 1861 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Like all slave narratives, Jacobs’s and Douglass’s works embody the tension between the conflicting motives that generated autobiographies of slave life.

An ironic factor in the production of these accounts can be noted in the generic title “Fugitive Slave Narrative” often given to such works.

Jacobs’s manuscript, finished around four years later but not published for four more, reflects in part the style, tone, and plot of what has been called the sentimental or domestic novel, popular fiction of the mid-nineteenth century, written by and for women, that stressed home, family, womanly modesty, and marriage.

In adapting her life story to this genre, Jacobs drew on women writers who were contemporaries and even friends, including well-known writers Lydia Maria Child and Fanny Fern (her employer’s sister in law), but she was also influenced by the popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which appeared in 1851.In his first narrative, he combined and equated the achievement of selfhood, manhood, freedom, and voice.The resulting lead character of his autobiography is a boy, and then a young man, who is robbed of family and community and who gains an identity not only through his escape from Baltimore to Massachusetts but through his ability to create himself through telling his story.Slave narrators also needed to present their credentials as good Christians while testifying to the hypocrisy of their supposedly pious owners.Both Douglass and Jacobs included some version of all these required elements yet also injected personalized nuances that transformed the formulas for their own purposes.Harriet Jacobs, on the other hand, was enmeshed in all the trappings of community, family, and domesticity.She was literally a “domestic” in her northern employment, as well as a slave mother with children to protect, and one from whom subservience was expected, whether slave or free.Douglass was a publicly acclaimed figure from almost the earliest days of his career as a speaker and then a writer.Harriet Jacobs, on the other hand, was never well-known.Douglass also reflected the Emersonian idealism so prominent in the 1840s, as he cast himself in the role of struggling hero asserting his individual moral principles in order to bring conscience to bear against the nation’s greatest evil.In addition, his story could be read as a classic male “initiation” myth, a tale which traced a youth’s growth from innocence to experience and from boyhood into successful manhood; for Douglass, the testing and journey motifs of this genre were revised to highlight the slave’s will to transform himself from human chattel into a free American citizen.

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