Douglass/Jacobs Book Review

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The book review is on two of the most well-known slave narratives – The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. Both texts are free online.You will write a 2-3 page comparison/contrast essay that responds to questions about these narratives listed in the pdf file I attached.

African American Studies 4 Summer 2018 Book Review You are required to write one book review for this course on a topic that is relevant to the course material. Below are the questions that you must answer in your response. In addition to the primary sources, you may use your textbook for pertinent information. Papers are due Tuesday, July 3rd, at 11:59PM. Your papers should be 2-3 pages, doublespaced with 12-point font. 1) How does Jacobs’s narrative measure up to Douglass’s in terms of literary quality and style? 2) How did Douglass use traditional notions of what it means to be an American in order to build his character and show that slaves could be "real" Americans? 3) Douglass makes two crucial transformations in this narrative: from a man to a brute and from a brute to a man. How does he achieve these transformations? 4) Evaluate the effectiveness of Jacobs’s narrative for white female readers, her primary audience. For example, how would they have reacted to her decision to involve herself with a white unmarried man? Is there any way Jacobs “redeemed herself” after this incident?
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by himself Douglass's narrative is the most often read slave narrative in the United States. Some of you have probably read it and many others of you are at least aware of it. It is considered a classic piece of literature because of its narrative qualities and also due to the enormous amont of information it gives us regarding slave experiences. Before we discuss the narrative specifically, let's discuss the events that lead up to the writing of this narrative. Douglass escapes from slavery as a young man and settles in Boston, Massachusetts. While there, he because acquainted with an abolitionist by the name of William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison is aware of Douglass's fugitive slave status and asks Douglass to tell him of his enslaved life. Douglass recounts his life story to Garrison who then asks him to speak at various abolitionist meetings to help sway northerners to join his cause. It was noted that Douglass's narrative moved many people to tears and he was asked to write down his recollections so that they might reach a wider audience. For this reason, you have the narrative that is the subject of this module. Douglass will write two more autobiographies, but this remains his most often read and quoted work. Douglass's narrative is introduced by Garrison and this is a formula that works well with many slave narratives. As John Sekora described it, it is a "black message in a white envelope". In other words, it needs to be introduced by a trusted white person before it can be believed. Look at the passage from Garrison's introduction below. His job is to vouch for the authenticity of the narrative. This gives credence to the author since many believed that Blacks were intellectually capable of writing these narratives and other thought that white abolitionists were writing them for the enslaved to further their cause. Before we approach Douglass' narrative, I want to remind you of Equiano's. I'm doing this so that you can note the striking differences in tone and import between the two. Look at Equiano's humble beginning to his narrative below and compare it with Douglass' introduction. What difference do you note between the two? Douglass's introduction is very straighforward and is not in any way humble. He does not excuse himself for writing or ask that anyone read his narrative. He begins his narrative in a manner that is expected within the genre - with a recollection of where and when he was born. At least, he tries to do this. He has already run into a problem. He doesn't know his exact age and this begins his criticism of slavery. Does he seem angry to you? Some readers believe so. Of particular note is his insistence on equating his situation with whites. He tells us that slaves are treated as horses as it concerns their age, but Douglass insists that he should know his age just as white children know there ages. In saying so, he argues for equality. Let's go over a few more passages in the narrative so that you can get a sense of Douglass's purpose in writing. In this passage, Douglass illuminates how familial bonds are destroyed in slavery. He never knew his mother or had any bond with her because of this cruel separation. The purpose of this separation is to prevent any emotional attachment on the part of the child toward his parent. This makes it easier on the slaveholder if s/he chooses to sell these slaves. They don't have to suffer through the emotional crisis that most would have to suffer through at the loss of a mother or father. However, this doesn't speak to the suffering that is experience on his mother's behalf. Finish reading the first chapter of the narrative to get a sense of the mother's suffering. Sexual Exploitation The next passages depict the brutality of slavery through the suffering of Douglass's Aunt Hester: Douglass's description is graphic and very effective. He could have just said that she was whipped, but it would not have had the same import. He wanted to give details that many readers would not know regarding the reason why she was whipped and the severity of the brutality that she suffered. He also responds to the stereotype regarding the singing of slaves as an indication of their happiness. See below: One of Douglass's aims is to show that slavery is a degrading influence not just in the lives of slaves, but also in the lives of white southerners. For example, Sophia Auld, who had never owned slaves until she married into it, was very kind to Douglass initially. However, a shift occurs as she becomes more accustomed to being a slaveholder As you were able to discern from the reading, Douglass is a very curious young man and naturally tries to manipulate his slave situation to his benefit. Several times he attempts to outwit his masters. He is even able to teach himself to read. Because of his behavior, his owner sends him to a slave breaker whose job is to make Douglass more docile. Douglass goes to live with a man named Mr. Covey who treats him as a brute and the result of this treatment is indicated below. Notice that he is transformed into a brute by cruel treatment. He is not inherently one as many pro-slavery advocates believed. Notice that he views slavery as incompatible with manhood. You are either one or the other, but you cannot be both. Some of you might be confused by that. Douglass is referring to the social construct of manhood during that time period. Think for a minute. What qualities should a man have? Now do you see how slavery is incompatible with manhood? Slaves must be submissive. Men are not. Douglass signals that a transformation is about to occur from brute to man. Let's see how this happens. He becomes a man by fighting back. Men don't allow themselves to be whipped. Men fight back. Notice the rising action - he says that when he decided to fight, he "rose". He rose both literally and metaphorically. He rose from the floow and he also rose from brute to man. The above passage further illustrates his desire to be seen as a man. Again, his rise is illustrated metaphorically. He's using the Christian story of resurrection and likens his situation to that of Christ's rising from the dead. Now for Douglass, you cannot be a man and a slave. However, there are different ideas of manhood and different qualities associated with it. Douglass can afford to take this stance because he does not have a family. Those men who do have families will submit to protect them. Protecting one's family is another quality associated with manhood.
Harriet Jacobs This narrative is one of the first to explicitly discuss the sexual exploitation of women within slavery. Douglass's narrative hinted at it through his story of Aunt Hester, but Jacobs's will focus on this type of oppression throughout her narrative. Her narrative will be introduced by a female abolitionist by the name of Lydia Marie Child. Structurally, this setup is very similar to that of Douglass. Their narratives need to be authenticated by a white person in order to be believed. I haven't included Childs' introduction here. The passage below is Jacobs's intro of her own narrative which attempts to persuade her reader of the veracity of her story. Note the very different ways in which Douglas and Jacobs choose to begin their narratives. Douglass does not bother to authenticate his narrative. He begins as most autobiographies would - with where he was born, etc. His tone is straightforward and to the point. What is Jacobs' tone? I would say that she takes a very humble approach. This approach would not have been attractive to Douglass, who wanted to be seen as a man. The social construct of manhood during that time period does not include humility. Men are bold and independent. In this way, you can see how the presentations of both texts are gendered. I would argue that Jacobs' is as much concerned with presenting herself as a woman as Douglass was with presenting himself as a man. A woman's place in the nineteenth century, was supposedly in the home. There were ostensibly two spheres of influences: the public sphere and the private sphere. Women were only able to fully participate in the private one and their duties within it were outlined for them through doctrine referred to as "The Cult of True Womanhood". This doctrine was espoused to women in various forms: sermons, women's magazines, etc. Women were reminded in many ways of their domestic duties. The four main tenets of this ideology are listed below: (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. Nevertheless, many women either outright shunned these ideas, or negotiated the terms of their "womanhood". See the PBS article here (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. for more information. Jacobs knows her audience. She knows that the white women in northern states who are reading her narrative are aware of, and possibly subscribe to the above ideology. Therefore, she is conscious of this in the way in which she presents her story. She begins her life story with the following: Remember what you learned about elite slaves - her father was one of them; and for that reason, he is able to assert a sense of his own manhood that most slaves could not. Also, note the difference between her upbringing and that of Douglass. In the following passages, Jacobs spends a bit of time describing her parents and her other relatives. One of the things you might notice in her descriptions is the way in which she describes them in terms of race and/or color. Why do you think she does this? Three different ideas regarding this: 1) She is trying to establish a relationship between herself and her readers by asserting that she and her family are of Anglo-Saxon heritage. 2) She is showing how prevalent the sexual exploitation of black slave women is through her family lineage. or 3) She believes in ideas of hierarchy based on race and is trying to present herself as better than other black people. What do you think is most probable? At a certain point, Harriet (who calls herself Linda in the narrative) is transferred to new owners. Her descriptions of them foreshadow problems for her. Note that Mrs. Flint does not conform to the tenets of the Cult of True Womanhood in many ways: She is not domestic because she does not "superintend" her household affairs. She is not pious because she whips slaves on the sabbath. She is not pure because she can watch a slave whipped and see blood drip to the floor without batting an eye. She also spits which would not be seen as "ladylike". *Purity is a quality that is pervasive in women's lives. They should be pure in thought and deed. Blood should make them faint. Profanity would make them blush. I think you get the picture:) Her description of Dr. Flint is much worse: And, when she was 15 years old, he begins his assault on her: She presents herself as helpless under these circumstances. She needs her readers to understand her inability to protect herself so that they will take pity on her for her actions that are to follow. She is friendly with a young white attorney who lives in town and who begins to take an interest in her. They will begin a written correspondence that will ultimately turn into a physical affair. This is pretty scandalous for the time period. Think about it - she willingly has sex outside of marriage. I think we, as modern readers, understand why she took the actions that she did, but remember who her readers are. Would they think that this was a viable alternative to what she was facing from her master? This is all strategy for Harriet (Linda). She believes that her master's interest in her derives, in part, from her virgin status. She assumes that once Dr. Flint learns that she is no longer chaste, his interest in her will wane. She takes control of her own sexuality. She says that making her own decision regarding who she has sex with, feels like freedom. Nevertheless, she still must contend with the judgment from her reading audience. She tries to excuse her behavior several times. She tries to rationalize her decision and then move away from it by presenting herself as a consumate mother. She must battle the binary constuction of womanhood that asserts that you are either a good woman or a bad one. She will try to focus her readers' attention on how great of a mother she is: However even in her presentation of herself as a good mother, she draws attention to the issues related to motherhood that most women do not have to face. Slave mothers must always contend with the very real fact that their children can be taken from them at any time. And for this reason, infanticide is a thought that is more common to slave mothers. Your text will relate the story of Margaret Garner in reference to this. These are just a few of the issues that this text presents. Read the rest of the assigned reading to learn the extent to which she goes to become free and her steadfast resistance of Dr. Flint's efforts to abuse her.

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School: New York University

check_circle AlmaIbrasimovic marked this question as complete.

1) How does Jacob’s narrative measure up to Douglass’s in terms of literary
quality and style?

Both of these narrative covers the same subject, being slaves in America.
Jacobs’s narrative is mostly very emotional, she is angry, sad and hurt. When she
is writing her story, she is trying to show her readers the real pain and suffering
being a slave. Jacobs is not trying to show us her whole life as a slave, unlike
Douglass. She just tells us her most painful incidents in her life (thus the name of
her narrative). That is one of the differences between her narrative and
Douglass’s. She tells us just her incidents unlike him, who tells us his whole life.
Jacobs’s narrative is mainly meant for women, so her style fits her readers. In the
time, when she wrote this narrative, women magazines were really popular.
They were meant to show and tell women where they “belong”, in the kitchen,
being housewife and domestic. So...

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