Slave narratives are texts published before 1865, however they continue to persist throughout history either in the form of memoirs or through revisionary texts. The modern slave narratives written today still follow the characteristic format of the narratives published earlier in history. Numerous slave narratives surfaced between 1830 and 1861 in abolitionist journals, pamphlets, and short book length publications (Day).
Slave narratives are supposed to be an autobiography, meaning each should be a unique tale, uniquely told of a unique life. Most slave narratives are anything but unique. Most are a repetitive work that resembles many of the other slave narratives written at the same time. The writer of a slave narrative is bound by his/her situation to give a picture of “slavery as it is.” As such, the writers are careful not to fictionalize, which leads to the distinct form of the slave narratives. This conscious effort not to fictionalize has led to the slave narratives reading as carbon copies of each other. This duplicity of information from narrative to narrative has led to great speculation of the authenticity of each of the slave narratives as an autobiography (Olney).
Most slaves were illiterate, if anyone was taught teaching slaves to read or write, they would be fined, imprisoned, or whipped. If slaves were found to be literate, they too could be punished through savage beatings, imprisonment, or amputation of fingers and toes. Most slave owners taught their slaves to read as a way to Christianize them, but in the process, they felt the slaves literacy would make them harder to control and would ultimately lead to more runaways (Fast).
Slave narratives were widely used as propaganda tools to advance the political agendas of abolitionists. These narratives were written in a manner that would allow readers to learn about slavery and eventually convince them to support the abolition of slavery. In order for the narrative to effect the abolition of slavery, the text had to be reliable and accurate leaving no doubt about its authenticity (Day).
They also attempted to arouse the sympathy of readers in order to promote more humanitarian treatment of slaves. The slave narratives emphasized traditional Christian religious ideas, showed acceptance of the ideals of dominant white society, and emphasized the cruelty of individual slave owners. This required each slave narrative to conform to a specific set of characteristics (Bailey).
The characteristics that would evoke reliability and accuracy in the slave narratives, is commonly found in every text written prior to 1865. Generally there was a title page that includes a claim to authenticity by the author. The title page is followed by testimonials written by...