My experiences of the slave narratives

I had very unique experiences with both of these books. Having read Frederick Douglass’ book first, I had even more feelings for the story told by Harriet Jacobs. I am amazed at how much emotion translated into me from the page. In every piece we’ve read in class about slavery, those that use symbolic annihilation and those that don’t, the stories are never that truthful. From what I read, the biggest difference in a narrative and an article regarding slavery is the emotion. Through a personal account, the reader is able to actually see what slave like was like. There was descriptions in these pieces but in there was no voice behind them. In the narratives there is a voice behind every detail in the stories.

Another difference I noticed was the way in which the stories are told. The narrative form makes the book seem almost like a novel. The details and struggles that the slaves experienced were not just listed there but were told in a way that you feel as though you sat and watched this experience occur. Any other form of slave writing leaves the reader understanding, but not feeling the experiences the slaves went through. Overall, these two books were the most interesting and captivating that I have read for this class and I feel as though I could talk on and on about them.

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

This story was one of the saddest stories I have ever experienced. Through the bonds of slavery, an innocent woman lived in fear for nearly half of her life. The cruelty of the slave owners baffles me. As the story of Linda is told the reader sees that the experiences of being a female slave are almost worse than that of a male slave. The females were not required to do manual labor in the fields, but they were forced to endure the perversity of their masters and the immorality of the society they live in. One thing Jacob’s spends a lot of time discussing is religion. Through religion she points out the immorality and contradictory actions made by the slave owners. Mrs. Flint’s actions stand out the most, especially when she tells Sally that she is grateful that Benny was bitten by a dog and that she cannot wait for the same to happen to his mother so she can receive the punishment she rightly deserves.

I am astonished at the savage treatment of female slaves. Almost every story is about the difficulty of working in the fields and being a black man; yet the women were almost treated worse. Although this treatment wasn’t usually physical, it was emotional, something that impacts the lives of women even greater. The perseverance shown by this brave woman is astounding. To be able to push through sexual tension and to be ripped from those you love is no easy feat and is unbelievable that women were able to withstand this and continue to go on every day never hesitating to move forward. The religious references serve as a wake-up call to the reader and just gives the reader one more example of the bias towards slaves. The fact that a man can call himself a Christian yet treat human beings with such cruelty is a sin in itself.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave

This novel is the story of Frederick Douglass, and hes journey to becoming a freedman. Through the epic tales of his life a reader can see the utmost cruelty which was bestowed upon the slaves. This very honest and sad truth presents the story of American slavery. The story gives a detailed description of Douglass’ life in every home he served in. I am utterly amazed at the severe way he and so many other slaves were treated. What stood out the most to  me in this book is the dedication and commitment Douglass showed to being freed. One particular quote stood out to me, “the more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my en-slavers….in moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast.” This struck me as very interesting because this man who hates the institution which rules his life regrets being above the rest and having deeper knowledge. This deeper knowledge is the same thing that drove him to break free and leave his slave drivers.

 This biggest thing that I noticed, is the difference of city slaves and plantation slaves. It amazes me how different the two are and yet how similar they are. The plantation slaves are treated like animals, or even worse. On the other side the city slaves are given great freedom to find a job and help provide for themselves. This is almost worse, though, because then the slaves are seeing the freedom that is denied to them and only long for it even more. I believe this is what  Douglass meant by wishing he were stupid like his fellow-slaves. Overall this reading only brought me greater sympathy for the enslaved and hate for those doing the enslaving.

The Representation of Slavery in Women’s Appeals

The two pieces of women’s literature we read presented a very interesting approach to representing slavery. In the Petition Form for Women written by the Grimke sisters the petition focuses much on the oppressed women to take advantage of the work that there husbands do. By take advantage, I mean they tell them to use their position as the wife of a slave owner to convince him to give up the wrongful institution he participates in.  Both petitions are similar in that they convince the reader to use her power as a woman to convince their husbands and sons to end slavery. The actual description of slaves in minute as the essays choose to focus more on the plight of women. There is more attention directed to the position of women.

In my opinion, these petitions took a very different approach towards ending the institution of slavery. Rather than presenting the horrible truths to slavery, they appealed more to the independence of women. The Grimke sisters encouraged women to step outside their boxes and speak up not only for themselves but for their fellow impressed. The chose to focus on the relationship between the slaves and women rather than the slaves themselves. One can infer that the intentions of these sisters was only to gain a political following that can help support the abolitionist cause. I feel like had they pointed out the actual details of the wrong-doing in slavery, they would have appealed more to women’s emotions and thus been able to gain an even stronger following. Overall there is a very distant representation of the slaves.

Declaration of Sentiments of the American Anti-Slavery Society

This begins with a declaration of the rights this society seeks. They desire the same rights that were granted to the American society in the Declaration of Independence, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The declaration continues on to identify the wrongness in the slavery practices. The beginning of this compares the rights of the slaves to the rights of white Americans. The society also protests how slavery is morally wrong, especially in God’s eyes. They are willing to forgive, if only they are freed from the bonds that tie them to the land. The declaration goes on to point out that people are not property. They say that the whites should not be compensated for the loss of their slaves because you cannot put a price on the head of a man. The declaration also points out that in would be just as great a sin to enslave WHITE Americans as it is Africans. The declaration is closed with a preamble and an address. These just solidify the points made in the declaration; the largest of these being the foundations on which our country was established, the inalienable rights, life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This was a very challenging piece to read. The language is very advanced which says  a lot for the supposedly “unintelligent” slaves in society. I was struck most by the main argument in the declaration, the desire for equal rights. The society presents a very meaningful argument. The Declaration of Sentiments is written is almost identical to the Declaration of Independence; I see this as a strong rebuttal to the founders of our country. Ironically, the men that began this horrible institution of slavery are the same men who wrote those very powerful words to gain their own freedom. Overall, the entire declaration stirs up my own sympathy for the enslaved and I can see the powerful effect they must have had on those who received it.

Symbolic Annihilation and the Erasure of Slavery

This article focuses on the historical sites in America and their representations of slavery. It begins by presenting the concept of symbolic annihilation. This is made up of “rhetorical devices and practices that are found in tour that are found in tour guides’ comments, in the many artifacts in the homes, promotional literature, leaflets, and videos”. According to this article approximately 55.7% of plantation museum sites use symbolic annihilation. This concept was developed by George Gerbner, Gaye Tuchman, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and James Benet. They presented this concept in the context of women in the media, it was later used to reference slavery. In the accounts of plantation visits, symbolic annihilation was shown in many ways. In the accounts I read, slavery was mentioned three and five times throughout the entire presentation. The few times slaves or slavery was mentioned was when they were merely pointing out what a building was or referencing who performed a certain task. According to this article this is blatant symbolic annihilation because of the irrevelant manner they were introduced in.

In my opinion, a plantation museum is supposed to teach the visitors about the history of their location. When a docent fails to mention a vital piece of our nations history, that is not okay. It is as if the caretakers or owners of these sites are still unwilling to accept the facts of what took place in our history. In reference to symbolic annihilism, it seems to me as though it’s a nice way to say that the museums are blatanly leaving out chunks of history. I personally think that something needs to be done to correct the mis-representation of our history. When children go visit these sites, they are not being told the truth. If children don’t know the truth, or if we continue to act as though it didn’t happen, our country could revert back to that terrible state and our nation as we know it could fall apart.

The Birth of a Genre: Slavery on Film

David Blight’s “Birth of a Genre” presents an honest approach to the history of slavery on film. She begins by discussing the beginning of slavery on film. In the earliest representations of slavery, nearly every film presented slaves as loyal, “happy, contented, and well cared for” also as “joyous as a bunch of children.” This was most graciously shown in D.W. Griffith and Thomas Dixon’s Birth of a Nation in 1915. According to Blight, this film changed the way we view the history of this era today. This movie sent the message that “not only the blacks did not want their freedom, but also that emancipation had been America’s greatest disaster”. Blight then goes on to discuss more recent films that more honestly represent slavery. A few of these include Natalie Zemon Davis’ “Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision” and Orlando Bagwell’s “Africans in America”. Both of these films openly interpret what actually went on in the time of slavery. The obstacles  historians and film makers overcome include fitting one hundred years of history into a couple hour long segment. Blight concludes the article by addressing a large part of our history that is never spoken about and many people don’t even know.

The thing that struck me most about this article, is the facts that Blight discovered that we never knew. I have never heard that particular story about the origins of memorial day. The fact that former slaves went and built a graveyard around the burial grounds of white men that had fought for their slavery, is just incredible to me. Especially the fact, that I never knew before this. I am shocked at how much of our history is hidden from the knowledge of society. I can only hope that filmmakers continue to tell the truth and inform or nation of our history.