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Jacobs, Truth, and Harper: Slavery and Sentimentality “‘The bill of sale!’ Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold at last! A human being sold.

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Presentation on theme: "Jacobs, Truth, and Harper: Slavery and Sentimentality “‘The bill of sale!’ Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold at last! A human being sold."— Presentation transcript:

1 Jacobs, Truth, and Harper: Slavery and Sentimentality “‘The bill of sale!’ Those words struck me like a blow. So I was sold at last! A human being sold in the free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure the progress of civilization in the United States” (Jacobs 2209, emphasis original).

2 Slave Narrative Connotation of “narrative” (esp. re: slave narrative and captivity narrative): A true story of someone’s life, usually written or dictated by him/herself. Connotation of “narrative” (esp. re: slave narrative and captivity narrative): A true story of someone’s life, usually written or dictated by him/herself. A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, an African Prince (1770) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (1845) Narratives of the Sufferings of Lewis and Milton Clarke, Sons of a Soldier of the Revolution, During a Captivity of More than Twenty Years Among the Slaveholders of Kentucky, One of the So Called Christian States of North America (1846) Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: Or the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery (1860) A different title with a different rhetorical purpose: The Confessions of Nat Turner, the Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Va. (1831) *See the Documenting the American South (UNC) webpage for lots of narratives.

3 Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written By Herself (1861)

4 Some Key Issues Authenticity Authenticity Framing one’s genealogy Framing one’s genealogy Appeals to Christian faith Appeals to Christian faith Gender Gender Flight/Escape Flight/Escape

5 Authenticity What have been the issues/controversies regarding the authenticity of Jacobs’s narrative? What have been the issues/controversies regarding the authenticity of Jacobs’s narrative? How/Why must former slaves add a sense of authenticity to what they publish? How/Why must former slaves add a sense of authenticity to what they publish? The Flints/Norcoms The Flint/Norcom house c.1966 The Flints/Norcoms The Flint/Norcom house c.1966

6 Authenticity –Who is Linda Brent? Could anyone really survive in a crawl-space for seven years? –Suppositions that Lydia Maria Child wrote the text instead of just editing it. –Need white abolitionists to authenticate these narratives. Before Incidents was published, Jacobs had to solicit white authors/abolitionists to write prefaces for her. Some appear at the Child beginnings of narratives, some at the end, and some in both places or even throughout (note the voice of the narrator of Truth’s speech, Frances D. Gage: authorizes Truth to speak at the meeting and frames the message for readers). –Vivid details regarding slavery could aid the abolitionist cause, esp. if pro-slavery individuals couldn’t disprove them as false or exaggerated (supposedly making slavery look worse than it is). Note how Jacobs argues she was relatively well-treated, so she’s not even representing the worst-case scenarios (similar to Stowe’s claim in UTC).

7 Harriet Jacobs: A Life. The Remarkable Adventures of the Woman Who Wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

8 A sketch of Jacobs’s position in the garret of her grandmother’s house (from Yellin’s book)

9 Framing one’s genealogy What do you notice/know about how slaves try to trace their life stories in these narratives? What do you notice/know about how slaves try to trace their life stories in these narratives?

10 Framing one’s genealogy –Trying to pin down an origin, which is difficult if you were taken from Africa or born on a plantation were taken from Africa or born on a plantation (perhaps with a white father), often separated (perhaps with a white father), often separated from parents and siblings and with no birthdate from parents and siblings and with no birthdate recorded. recorded. –These autobiographies are often compared against perhaps the most famous US auto- biography, Benjamin Franklin’s. However, there’s an obvious rupture—he can trace his family’s lineage back to the 1500s. –The importance of naming and renaming— Equiano is given many names; Douglass refashions his; Isabella Baumfree/Van Wagener changed her name to Sojourner Truth. changed her name to Sojourner Truth. Self-fashioning. Self-fashioning.

11 Appeals to Christian faith What does Jacobs say about/to Christians? What does Jacobs say about/to Christians?

12 Jacobs’s appeals: “My mistress had taught me the precepts of God’s Word: ‘Thou shalt love they [sic] neighbor as thyself.’ ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.’ But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor” (2189). “My mistress had taught me the precepts of God’s Word: ‘Thou shalt love they [sic] neighbor as thyself.’ ‘Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.’ But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor” (2189). Grandmother’s letter to Jacobs in NY: “I cannot hope to see you again on earth; but I pray to God to unite us above, where pain will no more rack this feeble body of mine; where sorrow and parting from my children will be no more. God has promised these things if we are faithful unto the end. My age and feeble health deprive me of going to church now; but God is with me here at home” (2206, emphasis original). Grandmother’s letter to Jacobs in NY: “I cannot hope to see you again on earth; but I pray to God to unite us above, where pain will no more rack this feeble body of mine; where sorrow and parting from my children will be no more. God has promised these things if we are faithful unto the end. My age and feeble health deprive me of going to church now; but God is with me here at home” (2206, emphasis original).

13 Jacobs, Chapter XIII: “The Church and Slavery” “After the alarm caused by Nat Turner’s insurrection had subsided, the slaveholders came to the conclusion that it would be well to give the slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering their masters” (Norton Ed., 57). “After the alarm caused by Nat Turner’s insurrection had subsided, the slaveholders came to the conclusion that it would be well to give the slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering their masters” (Norton Ed., 57). Minister: “Instead of serving your masters faithfully, which is pleasing in the sight of your heavenly Master, you are idle, and shirk your work. God sees you. You tell lies. God hears you” (Norton Ed., 58). Minister: “Instead of serving your masters faithfully, which is pleasing in the sight of your heavenly Master, you are idle, and shirk your work. God sees you. You tell lies. God hears you” (Norton Ed., 58). “When I was told that Dr. Flint had joined the Episcopal church, I was much surprised. I supposed that religion had a purifying effect on the character of men; but the worst persecutions I endured from him were after he was a communicant. The conversation of the doctor, the day after he had been confirmed, certainly gave me no indication that he had ‘renounced the devil and all his works.’ In answer to some of his usual talk, I reminded him that he had just joined the church. ‘Yes, Linda,’ said he. ‘It was proper for me to do so’” (Norton Ed., 63). “When I was told that Dr. Flint had joined the Episcopal church, I was much surprised. I supposed that religion had a purifying effect on the character of men; but the worst persecutions I endured from him were after he was a communicant. The conversation of the doctor, the day after he had been confirmed, certainly gave me no indication that he had ‘renounced the devil and all his works.’ In answer to some of his usual talk, I reminded him that he had just joined the church. ‘Yes, Linda,’ said he. ‘It was proper for me to do so’” (Norton Ed., 63). Dr. Flint: “How dare you preach to me about your infernal Bible!” (Norton Ed., 63). Dr. Flint: “How dare you preach to me about your infernal Bible!” (Norton Ed., 63). Slave song: “Ole Satan’s church is here below; / Up to God’s free church I hope to go” (Norton Ed., 63). Slave song: “Ole Satan’s church is here below; / Up to God’s free church I hope to go” (Norton Ed., 63).

14 Appeals to Christian faith –As part of sentimentalism, appeal to white readers who profess to be Christians. –Slaves become proselytizers who are better Christians than whites are (accuse whites of twisting the Bible to their own ends). True vs. slaveholders’ Christianity (the power of pointing out hypocrisy). See William Apess for a Native American counterpart. Sojourner Truth monument, Michigan—teacher/proselytizer

15 Gender How does Jacobs use gender to appeal to sentiment in her text, relying on issues like home/domesticity? How does Jacobs use gender to appeal to sentiment in her text, relying on issues like home/domesticity?

16 Gender –Appeal to sentiment by showing women (especially mothers) in distress—threats of rape and having mothers) in distress—threats of rape and having their children taken from them. Douglass also their children taken from them. Douglass also appeals to independent masculinity in his narrative. appeals to independent masculinity in his narrative. –“cult of true womanhood”: idealizing Christian womanhood (domestic, pious). Tension with these womanhood (domestic, pious). Tension with these ideal notions for non-white women, poor women, etc. ideal notions for non-white women, poor women, etc. Thomas Noble’s 1867 The Modern Medea, Thomas Noble’s 1867 The Modern Medea, based on Margaret Garner’s story Eliza, Uncle Tom’s Cabin based on Margaret Garner’s story Eliza, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

17 Truth, “Ain’t I A Woman?”—p Addresses audience as “chilern.” “Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!” She has been made to work like a man, and her masters have beaten her like they would beat a man—and she wants to be seen as strong. However, she says, “I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a’n’t I a woman?” On intellect—”If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?” Rhetorical purpose? “‘Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?... From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.’ Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.” “If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let ‘em.” (Note: 4 paragraphs up, she says “white men will be in a fix pretty soon” between slaves demanding freedom in the South and women in the North demanding equal rights.)

18 Harper, “The Slave Mother”—pp “Heard you” and “Saw you”?—address to audience “He is not hers” repeated—condition of chattel “She is a mother” repeated; son seems to be her only happiness (like Jacobs) “Oh, Father! must they part?”—potential double meaning She is a mother, pale with fear Her boy clings to her side, Her boy clings to her side, And in her kirtle vainly tries His trembling form to hide. His trembling form to hide They tear him from her circling arms, Her last and fond embrace. Her last and fond embrace. Oh! never more may her sad eyes Gaze on his mournful face. Gaze on his mournful face. No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks Disturb the listening air: Disturb the listening air: She is a mother, and her heart Is breaking in despair. Is breaking in despair.

19 Flight/Escape –Stories of escaping and/or buying one’s freedom, usually fleeing northward (e.g., New York or Canada). –Problematized by the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. See Jacobs—”northerners consent to act the part of bloodhounds” (2193). –Some stories (and white and black authors/activists) advocate the “Back to Africa Movement” as well as fleeing to Canada or elsewhere in the Americas since the North is complicit regarding slavery and guilty of racism. For some, this is also a (problematic) solution to fears about miscegenation before and after the Civil War. –“Passing” was another important theme for many slaves who escaped, in fiction and reality: who escaped, in fiction and reality: Jacobs—at one point paints her face darker and pretends to be a sailor to get to a ship. pretends to be a sailor to get to a ship. Uncle Tom’s Cabin—Eliza’s husband passes as a Spaniard. Spaniard. Ellen and William Craft—Ellen passes as a white man with her husband as her black attendant/slave. with her husband as her black attendant/slave. Ellen Craft

20 Panopticism—Challenging Escape Jeremy Bentham’s 1785 prison design re: surveillance; Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish (1975). Applies to the plantation and space surrounding it—patrols, overseers, slave “snitches,” owners playing tricks to catch slaves when they’re unawares. Extended through the Fugitive Slave Act and fed by fears of revolt (Haitian Revolution 1791, Nat Turner Rebellion 1831 [Virginia], Amistad ship rebellion 1839, Creole ship rebellion 1841, John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry 1859 [Virginia]). Jacobs on “young and innocent” slaves in the eyes of Mrs. Flint: “They were the objects of [Mrs. Flint’s] constant suspicion and malevolence” (2190). Mrs. Flint even watches her husband with an eagle eye and stands over Jacobs/Brent while she sleeps: “Sometimes I woke up, and found her bending over me. At other times she whispered in my ear, as though it was her husband who was speaking to me, and listened to hear what I would answer” (2192). “he was going to build a small house for me, in a secluded place, four miles away from the town” (2194). Has to avoid the “patrols” (2198). “Dr. Flint was suspicious, and determined not to loosen his grasp upon us” (2199). Closing down meeting houses after Nat Turner’s rebellion so slaves are easier to monitor (2200).

21 Panoptic Surveillance Cont. EVEN FROM HER FAMILY (POTENTIALLY POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE): “The mother of slaves is very watchful. She knows there is no security for her children” (2196). EVEN IN THE NORTH: “I could never go out to breathe God’s free air without trepidation in my heart. This seemed hard; and I could not think it was a right state of things in any civilized country” (2206). “It was impossible to tell how near the enemy was. He [Mr. Dodge] might have passed and repassed the house while we were sleeping. He might at that moment be waiting to pounce upon me if I ventured out of doors. I had never seen the husband of my young mistress, and therefore I could not distinguish him from any other stranger” (2207). “[T]here I sat, an oppressed American, not daring to show my face” (2208).

22 Positive surveillance: “How often did I rejoice that I lived in a town where all the inhabitants knew each other!” (Dr. Flint resists beating her so he won’t be criticized) (2192). In the “loophole of retreat,” she gets to see/hear without being seen/heard (see chapter XXI). Darkness  light when she bores holes for herself. – –“I peeped at him [Dr. Flint] as he passed on his way to the steamboat” (2204). – –“Southerners have the habit of stopping and talking in the streets, and I heard many conversations not intended to meet my ears. I heard slave-hunters planning how to catch some poor fugitive. Several times I heard allusions to Dr. Flint, myself, and the history of my children” (2205). Change: When free: “When I rode home in the cars I was no longer afraid to unveil my face and look at people as they passed. I should have been glad to have met Daniel Dodge himself; to have had him seen me and known me” (2209). When free: “When I rode home in the cars I was no longer afraid to unveil my face and look at people as they passed. I should have been glad to have met Daniel Dodge himself; to have had him seen me and known me” (2209).

23 “Reader, my story ends with freedom; not in the usual way, with marriage” (Jacobs 2210).


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