The humiliating nature of enslavement, sexual savage exploitation, and degradation in autobiographical narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs
In the age of Romanticism, slavery and the slave trade provoked sharp criticism and controversy and played a very significant role in shaping public opinion and causing moral opposition to injustice and tyranny. Since Columbus’s journey opened the doors of the Atlantic passage to African Slave Trade, slavery became man’s greatest inhumanity to man “converting” the victims into labor and economic units of production. The foundation of African culture and civilization stagnated, decayed and almost disappeared within the over three hundred years of the Christian motivated evil of slave trade against Africa with the organized destruction of its capable and productive manpower. Negro men, treated as half human – half beast moral primitives, were a major subject to forced slave labor in the plantations to produce food and essential raw materials, and to sustain the economic system in other countries. Many well-known writers entered the debate, rallying support by choosing the civil disobedience line against a physical violence and complex racial tensions. Being convinced that “ideas of justice and humanity are not confined to one race of men” (Yearsley), they pulled the trigger of the extinguisher that put out the fire of slave trade not to let injustice interfere with their personal justice. Harriet Ann Jacobs, Olaudah Equiano, and Frederick Douglass were one of those prominent American writers who escaped from slavery and became involved in the movement towards the abolition of slavery and slave trade, and strongly supported the growing anti-slavery propaganda. With a deep feeling of pain and disgust they depicted the events experienced and witnessed on their own as well as the tyranny, domestic violence, and cruelty exerted by white slave masters over their Negro slaves. Their style of writing, the quality of imagery, and vivid description deeply touched the souls of readers from all over the world. F. Douglass and H. Ann Jacobs strongly believed in the non-violence system, the eternal struggle for freedom, knowledge, social equality, and self-dignity. They rebelled against the well-established policy in the society which allowed treating poor Negro men and women slaves like animals, "branded with the initial letters of their master's name; and a load of heavy iron hooks hung about their necks; put into scales and weighed, and then sold..."(Equiano). The white man’s slavery institution dehumanized people to the level that they became the living property supposed not to have human feelings other than the ability to produce wealth for their masters. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave is a very powerful revolutionary document which strongly underlined brilliant skills of Frederick Douglass as a writer who was a victim of slavery, cruel and inhuman treatment, injustice and oppression. His narrative demonstrates a strong will and intelligence of a former slave while accusing and criticizing the humiliating actions of his slave masters. Although at some stages of his life Frederick Douglass advocated violence against his masters, it was not a means of an evil system but more likely his attempt to rebel against injustice, tyranny, oppression, and illiteracy which existed among Negro men so they would never reach control over their destinies and would continue being treated like animals. "From whence came the spirit I don't know - I resolved to fight; and seized Covey hard by the throat. He trembled like a leaf...he used me like a brute for six months, and I was determined to be used so no longer. This battle was the turning-point in my career as a slave", as Douglass vividly described how he attacked Covey for all sufferings, hard work, hunger, and pain he unfairly went through as a black man in Chapter X of his autobiographical narrative...
Cited: Abolition of Slavery and the Slave Trade. Historical background. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th Ed. Volume 2A. The Romantics. Ed. D. Damrosch and K. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education, Longman, 2004. 214-224.
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd Ed. Volume E. Ed. Sarah Lawall. New York: Norton, 2002. 923-980.
Jacobs, Harriet Ann. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. Retrieved from Contexts and Comparisons: A Student Guide to the Great Works Courses. Baruch Library Digital Collections.
Ohaja, Nicholas. Africa. A basic text on Land, People, and Culture. Ed. J. Otano. Richmond Hill, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999. 174-184.
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