The family, which consisted of nine children, lived in Brooklyn and Long Island in the s and s.
Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs: White abolitionists urged slave writers to follow well-defined conventions and formulas to produce what they saw as one of the most potent propaganda weapons in their arsenal. Yet for the writers themselves, the opportunity to tell their stories constituted something more personal: Working cautiously within the genre expectations developed by and for their white audiences, highly articulate African American writers such as Douglass and Jacobs found ways to individualize their narratives and to speak in their own voices in a quest for selfhood that had to be balanced against the aims and values of their audiences.
Harriet Jacobs A comparison of the narratives of Douglass and Jacobs demonstrates the full range of demands and situations that slaves could experience.
Some of the similarities in the two accounts are a result of the prescribed formats that governed the publication of their narratives. Slave narrators also needed to present their credentials as good Christians while testifying to the hypocrisy of their supposedly pious owners.
Both Douglass and Jacobs included some version of all these required elements yet also injected personalized nuances that transformed the formulas for their own purposes.
Douglass was a publicly acclaimed figure from almost the earliest days of his career as a speaker and then a writer. Harriet Jacobs, on the other hand, was never well-known.
His narrative was the culmination of Douglass based his narrative on the sermon. Harriet Jacobs, on the other hand, began her narrative aroundafter she had lived as a fugitive slave in the North for ten years.
She began working privately on her narrative not long after Cornelia Grinnell Willis purchased her freedom and gave her secure employment as a Jacobs modeled her narrative on the sentimental or domestic novel.
Douglass was a public speaker who could boldly self-fashion himself as hero of his own adventure. In his first narrative, he combined and equated the achievement of selfhood, manhood, freedom, and voice.
The resulting lead character of his autobiography is a boy, and then a young man, who is robbed of family and community and who gains an identity not only through his escape from Baltimore to Massachusetts but through his Douglass focuses on the struggle to achieve manhood and freedom.
Jacob focuses on sexual exploitation. Harriet Jacobs, on the other hand, was enmeshed in all the trappings of community, family, and domesticity. As Jacobs pointedly put it, "Slavery is bad for men, but it is far more terrible for women. Like Douglass, Jacobs was determined to fight to the death for her freedom.
Pregnant with the child of a white lover of her own choosing, fifteen year old Jacobs reasoned erroneously that her condition would spur her licentious master to sell her and her child. Thus throughout her narrative, Jacobs is looking not only for freedom but also for a secure home for her children.
They never lost their determination to gain not only freedom from enslavement but also respect for their individual humanity and that of other bondsmen and women.
Guiding Student Discussion Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is available, along with introductory material, at http: Their titles alone can show students that both writers are making highly conscious decisions about self-presentation and narrative strategy.The Coddling of the American Mind.
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