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Stirring Up The North To See The Horrors Of Slavery: Harriet Jacobs’s Narrative "Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl"

1074 words - 4 pages

Educating the North of the horrors of slavery through the use of literature was one strategy that led to the questioning, and ultimately, the abolition of slavery. Therefore, Harriet Jacobs’s narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is very effective in using various tactics in order to get women in the North to pay attention and question the horrifying conditions in the South. By acknowledging that not all slaveholders were inhumane, explaining the horrific abuse and punishments slaves endured, and comparing the manner in which whites and slaves spent their holidays, Jacobs’s narrative serves its purpose of arousing Northern women to take notice of the appalling conditions two million Southern slaves continued to endure.
If Jacobs had only told stories of “the evil slaveholders”, she would have portrayed that all whites were vile people. As a result, white women in the North would have looked right past such a book, and thus not bothered to pick it up and read it. If Northern women had chosen to read the narrative and Jacobs condemned all whites, Northern women would immediately feel attacked. Hence, by acknowledging some humane whites, Northern women were not instantly turned off and as a result, more keen to trust Jacobs’s stories. Therefore, it was very effective that Jacobs acknowledges some of the humane whites in North Carolina at the beginning of her narrative. Jacobs opens her narrative sharing that although she was born a slave, she did not know it until she was six years old when her mother died. When Jacobs’s mother passed away, Jacobs’s new home was to be with her mother’s mistress. Jacobs’s mother’s mistress was the daughter of Jacobs’s grandmother’s mistress, or foster sister of Jacobs’s mother. Therefore, because Jacobs’s mother was a faithful servant to her foster sister, on Jacobs’s mother’s death-bed, her mistress promised that her children would not suffer. Jacobs found her new home to be a happy one for “no toilsome or disagreeable duties were imposed upon [her]” (7). Jacobs’s mistress was “so kind to [her] that [she] was always glad to do her bidding, and proud to labor for her” (7). Needless to say, Jacobs and her mistress had a wonderful relationship. They sewed together and Jacobs’s mistress even taught her to read and spell, which was very uncommon and forbidden. When Jacobs was twelve, her mistress sickened, and Jacobs “earnestly prayed in [her] heart that she might live… [She] loved her; for she had been almost like a mother to [her]” (7). Jacobs shares the relationship she had with her mistress in order to show women in the North that not all slaveholders were inhumane. In doing so, Jacobs hopes to get Northern women to take notice of her narrative, read it, and provoke them to want to change the conditions in the South.
Unfortunately, people like Jacobs’s mistress were “like angels’ visits-few and far between” (50). Typically, slaves were viewed as “merely a piece of property” (10), and therefore, this...

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