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The Representation Of Family In Slave Narratives

673 words - 3 pages

In this essay I intend to delve into the representation of family in the slave narrative, focusing on Frederick Douglas’ ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave’ and Harriet Jacobs ‘Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.’ Slave narratives are biographical and autobiographical stories of freedom either written or told by former slaves. The majority of them were ‘told to’ accounts written with the aid of abolitionist editors between 1830 and 1865. An amount of narratives were written entirely by the author and are referred to as authentic autobiographies. The first of more than six thousand extant slave narratives were published in 1703. Primarily written as propaganda, the narratives served as important weapons in the warfare against slavery. Slave narratives can be considered as a literary genre for a number of reasons. They are united by the common purpose of pointing out the evils of slavery and attacking the notion of black inferiority. In the narratives, you can find simple and often dramatic accounts of personal experience, strong revelation of the character of both ordinary and extraordinary men and women, and ironic humour. Slave narrations are bearing witness to outrageous beatings. Masters do not want their slaves to know their birth date, thus keeping them sub-human and used as a source of depravation. Douglass represents slavery as a dehumanising and degrading system.

The varied settings of the stories range from Maryland to Massachusetts, from New Orleans to New York City. Antebellum southern slaves lived in family units. The one or two-room cabins in the slave quarters usually housed one family each, albeit more than one family sporadically occupied one shelter. Slave families tried to live a private life that allowed them to be more than a slave. They married and raised children which placed meaning to their lives. In 1860, about half of all slaves were younger than age sixteen. Instead of acting only in the role of slave, men, women, and children defined themselves as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts...

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