Different Voices, One Message: Literature as Resistance in the Anti-Slavery Movement
"The pen is mightier than the sword"
The struggle for emancipation was not one which began and ended with the Civil War. African Americans during the period of slavery had very few options left to them regarding their own freedom. The law that held them in slavery could not be trusted to emancipate them. For those who were fortunate enough to have obtained their freedom, the only power they had they had in the abolitionist fight was the power of the written word. African American writers used varying writing styles to carry their message across. Some used pious and moral instruction, others used political exhortation and social prophecy, but all were delivered in a distinctly vintage nineteenth century rhetorical vein which was evocative and powerful.
RESISTANCE THROUGH MORAL AND CHRISTIAN INSTRUCTION
Harriet Jacobs and Maria W. Stewart assert that slavery produces deprivation and degradation on its helpless victims. It is a disadvantage to blacks because it robs them of the opportunity for virtue, morality and enlightenment. Jacobs argues that slavery is as much a curse to whites as it is to blacks. She demonstrates this point by showing how the morality of each is corrupted. Stewart in turn affirms that slavery prevents blacks from fulfilling their God-given potential and deprives them from true self-actualization. Both authors' work would have been received by predominantly white abolitionists and it is to this audience that they plead their case.
In Harriet Jacobs' autobiography, Incidents In the Life Of a Slave Girl, she asserts that slavery is a curse to the nation and is a factor in the breakdown of the American household and family. Jacobs show the evilness of slavery by, not only depicting the brutality of the institution, but by showing how it corrupts the moral virtue of both the slave and the slaveholder. She writes, "I can testify from my own experience and observation, that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as to the blacks. It makes the white fathers cruel and sensual; the sons violent and licentious; it contaminates the daughters, and makes the wives wretched. And as for the colored race, it needs an abler pen than mine to describe the extremity of their sufferings, the depth of their degradation." (54)She shows this by describing how she was a victim of Dr. Flint's sexual harassment and the measures she had to take out of desperation. She shows how Dr. Flint's wife was embittered by knowing that her husband was a philanderer, though there was nothing she could do to prevent him. Jacobs also writes that this is a recurring phenomenon because sons learn from seeing their father's actions, that abusing their female slaves is an acceptable norm. She also writes that the sanctity of marriage, a God-governed institution, is desecrated because of the adultery that slaveholders commit. As female slaves' lives...