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"Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl" By Harriet Ann Jacobs: A Look At Oppression

1281 words - 6 pages

The United States today is arguably the most powerful nation in the world. It is a country that is an epicenter for commerce and trade, for cultural and artistic endeavors, and for politics on a global scale. However this great nation carries with it a tremulous history, with roots of prejudice and hatred stretching back to its inception. One facet of this unfortunate past is of course the slave trade. For decades, African people were kidnapped from their native homes and they and their descendants were forced into slavery. Much of America's economic growth can be traced back to originating from this hated practice. Despite the barbaricism of it all, it took a nationwide war to finally bring ...view middle of the document...

Despite the fact that she is deemed unworthy enough to be put into servitude, she is not unworthy enough to be seen as a sexual object, a very obvious contradiction. The description of sexual assaults and advances upon her are both hard to read, though very insightful, as there are very few texts dealing with the subject from a female perspective. She makes note of how she is disgusted by her owner Dr. Flint, and does everything she can to avoid being forced into sex with him. She even goes as far as to have an affair with another white man, Mr. Sands, in hopes that Dr. Flint will become upset and simply sell her to Sands. The idea of unable to escape these sexual advances and simply submitting to them to avoid being with a more undesirable man, is maddening. Jacobs explains that this decision represents her desire for freedom rather than chastity. Despite the fact that female slaves are oppressed at all turns, the system that holds them down still ignores the sexual actions of their white masters, despite condemning the same relationship under law. At one point Jacobs expresses her desire to wed a carpenter friend she knows, but because he is free and she is a slave, the marriage could not happen. Laws are often mentioned that prohibited a white person from marrying some one of a different race, but even in this case, where it would not be an interracial marriage, the issue is now the difference between free and not free. This is just one example of the many interlocking forms of oppression that limited the people of these times. If race was not a problem, then class was. If class was not the problem, then gender was. Therefore, it the highest member among this social hierarchy was a rich white male, then the lowest was that of a poor black woman.One of the key themes is the book is Jacobs' desire to keep her family together, no matter the odds, something very hard to accomplish given that her and the members of her family were basically property. A great portion of the book deals with the seven years she spent in a dark cramped dwelling beneath the roof of a family home, just so she could remain free and watch her children grow up. It is horrible to think that despite her conditions in this place, it was still seen as preferable to a life of bondage. Not to mention how runaway slaves were sometimes treated. She mentions the story of one young man in the area, who had run off after a...

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