Harriet Jacobs And Slave Narratives
Slave Narratives • Written from the wealth of experience • Bridged the gap between fiction and truthful narratives • The question of authenticity • Some authored by abolitionists with only a bit of input by former slaves
Anti-Slavery Writers • Only few had direct experience of the South • Few works describing the actual lives of slaves • Exception: • the fugitive slaves • a few travelers
Harriet Jacobs, 1815-1897 • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl 1861 • Born a slave in North Carolina • Active in the antislavery movement in Rochester in 1849 • Nursed black troops during the war • Autobiographical narrative • “Edited” by Lydia Maria Child
Timeline of Jacob’s life • Born 1813, Edenton, NC • Parents both mulatto slaves; father a skilled carpenter; family lives together • Mother dies in 1819 (age 6) • Moves in with her mother’s owner, Margaret Horniblow, who taught her to read, write and sew • Horniblow dies in 1825 (age 12) • She wills Harriet and her brother to her young niece; they fell under the control of the niece’s father, Dr. James Norcom • With the Norcums from 1825-35 (age 12 to 22) • Endures constant sexual harassment
Timeline, cont. • Age at 15, forms a “consensual” relationship with Samuel Sawyer, a free white man • By age 20, she has two children, Joseph and Louisa • 1835 Harriet flees • Lives for seven years in her grandmother’s attic • Sawyer purchases their children but does not free them; eventually he remarries and sends Louisa to his cousins in NY • 1842 escapes to North • Retrieves daughter in Brooklyn; settles with her children in Boston, works as a nanny for the family of Nathaniel Parker Willis • 1849-50 spends 18 months in Rochester, NY • Connects with important abolitionists
Harriet Jacobs First woman to author a fugitive slave narrative in the United States Because of the scandalous nature of her narrative, she masked the identity of the people and places, including her birthplace and members of her family John Jacobs Brother of Harriet Jacobs Separated from his sister and lived with various slave-owners until escaping to the North His experience was very differentfrom that of his sister, but compared to his sister, his narrative is relatively unknown Family Matters
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl • Published under the name Linda Brent • The metaphor of hiding • The loop-hole of retreat • The inventive power of a novel • Formal plot elements from the sentimental and the gothic novel • Sexual abuse and slavery inseparable • Observes plantation life from concealment
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl • Central tropes of literature of slavery • Secrecy and concealment • Writing and letters • Violation and resistance • Realistic treatment of the lives of black and white women • Appeals to the conventions of domestic romance—novelization of the autobiography
Other Black Texts • Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black 1859 • The first novel by a black woman • William Wells Brown’s Clotel; or, the President’s Daughter 1853 • Martin Delany’s Blake; or, the Huts of America
Frederick Douglass • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas 1843 • My Bondage and my Freedom 1855 • Life and Times of Frederick Douglas
Slave Narratives • Enormous diversity • From simple stories to richly detailed accounts • Conventions of Euro-American sentimental fiction • Political polemics • Slave songs • Remnants of African folklore • Personal testimonies • Questions of identity and voice • Communal life • Fabrication, acting and subtle deceit
How Incidents Differs • Addressed to women • Freedom is not equated with manhood but with the freedom to mother • Sexual abuse at the center of the narrative • Draws on two genres, slave narrative and the seduction novel • Compare to The Coquette and others • Compare to captivity narratives • Compare to Douglass and others
Main Points • A slave was property and no legal rights; a slave could not go against his/her master’s will, even sexual affairs. • The people in the North were not aware of what was taking place in the South, and they would not put up with it if they knew. • The mistress will end up hating the slave girl the most. If a slave is beautiful, jealousy and hatred could make the slave a victim of her slave owner. • Sex between master and slave represents an unequal power relationship, which is often exploited to the benefit of the master and the detriment of the slave. Even if consensual, it is rape.
More Main Points • A slave had no recourse against violations and was often in a situation of isolation and loneliness. • The wives of the slave owners often also suffered from the unequal relations between their slave-master husbands and his female slaves. Moreover, the wife often blamed the slave for her husband’s infidelity. • Southern white women often looked at their husbands’ slave children as unwanted objects, who didn’t deserve any special treatment. Frequently, the wives tried to sell these children to remove the evidence of their husbands’ infidelity.