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Feminism and Slavery

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Feminism and Slavery

Harriet Jacobs escaped from slavery and at great personal risk wrote of her trials as a house servant in the South and later fugitive in the North. Her slave narrative entitled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl gave a true account of the evils slavery held for women, a perspective that has been kept relatively secret from the public. In writing her story, Jacobs, though focused on the subjugation due to race, gave voice subtly to a different kind of captivity, that which men impose on women regardless of color in the patriarchal society of the ninetenth century. This form of bondage is not only exacted from women by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, but also is accepted and perpetuated by women themselves, who forge the cage that holds them captive. Jacobs directed her stirring account of the afflictions a woman is subjected to in the chain of slavery to women of the North to gain sympathy for their sisters that were enslaved in the South. In showing this, Jacobs reveals the danger of such self condemnation women maintain by accepting the idealized role that men have set as a goal for which to strive. Harriet Jacobs' slave epic is a powerful statement unveiling the impossibility and undesirability of achieving the ideal put forth by men and maintained by women. Her narrative is a strong feminist text.

The idealized Woman that men and women alike propagated consists of four qualities. "The attributes of True Womanhood, by which a woman judged herself and was judged by her husband, her neighbors and society, could be divided into four cardinal virtues- piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity."[1] Of all of the women that Jacobs' autobiographical character Linda Brent meets, not one ...

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... "Perilous Passages in Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" in The Discourse of Slavery: Aphra Behn to Toni Morrison. Plasa, Carl and Ring, Betty J., eds. New York: Routledge, 1994.

McKay, Nellie Y. "The Girls Who Became Women: Childhood Memories in the Autobiographies of Harriet Jacobs, Mary Church Terrell, and Anne Moody" in Tradition and the Talents of Women. Howe, Florence, ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Smith, Valerie. Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Starling, Marion Wilson. The Slave Narrative: Its Place in American History. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1988.

Welter, Barbara. "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860" chap. in Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976.

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