Comparing Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
What provokes a person to write about his or her life? What motivates us to read it? Moreover, do men and women tell their life story in the same way? The answers may vary depending on the person who answers the questions. However, one may suggest a reader elects to read an autobiography because there is an interest. This interest allows the reader to draw from the narrator's experience and to gain understanding from the experience. When the reader involves him/herself in the experience, the reader encounters what is known and felt by the narrator. The encounter may provide the reader an opportunity to explore a time and place long past.
Reading the narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, one identifies a period when the slave's voice begins to emerge. Douglass and Jacobs emerge during the American Renaissance period. During this period, society struggles with the abolishment of slavery and women's rights. Douglass and Jacobs' narratives awaken society to the atrocities of slavery confirmed by their personal experiences. The American Renaissance, distinguished as an intellectual and artistic period, now includes, among others, Douglass and Jacobs brutal historical accounts. Douglass and Jacobs' narrative presence represents the voice slaves who desire freedom from bondage.
In Trudy Mercer's "Representative Woman: Harriet Jacobs and the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," she suggests both narratives work as propaganda:
The slave narratives of pre-Civil War America may exemplify the earliest and most dramatic uses of the "personal as political," and the sharing of experiences as a means of "consciousness raising." (1)
Based on Mercer's statement, one could argue that slave narratives offer evidence promoting political action to abolish slavery. Although Douglass and Jacobs' experiences support the "personal as political', their narratives further explore the residual effects of slavery: 1) to prohibit the identity of male and female slave, and 2) to marginalize the slave's presence in society.
The problem of identity plagues Douglass. Unable to establish a sense of self, Douglass questions his age and parentage. From the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he states, "I have no accurate knowledge of my age [...]" (1824). Douglass' concern about his age is a sign that he lacks knowledge important to who is he. For Douglass, his age would confirm the years he has been in bondage. By questioning his age, Douglass characteristically connects to the American Renaissance's quest to examine and explore oneself in society. Douglass further inquires about his parents:
My mother was named Harriet Bailey. [...] My father was a white man. He was admitted to be such by all I ever heard speak of my parentage. The opinion was also whispered that my master was...