Frederick Douglass and Slavery

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Frederick Douglass's Narrative, first published in 1845, is an enlightening and incendiary text. Born into slavery, Douglass became the preeminent spokesman for his people during his life; his narrative is an unparalleled account of the inhumane effects of slavery and Douglass's own triumph over it. His use of vivid language depicts violence against slaves, his personal insights into the dynamics between slaves and slaveholders, and his naming of specific persons and places made his book an indictment against a society that continued to accept slavery as a social and economic institution. Like Douglass, Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery, and in 1853 she published Letter from a Fugitive Slave, now recognized as one of the most comprehensive antebellum slave narratives written by an African-American woman. Jacobs's account broke the silence on the exploitation of African American female slaves.

As the United States grew, the institution of slavery became a way of life in the southern states, while northern states began to abolish it. While the majority of free blacks lived in poverty, some were able to establish successful businesses that helped the Black community. Racial discrimination often meant that Blacks were not welcome or would be mistreated in White businesses and other establishments. A comparison of the narratives of Douglass and Jacobs demonstrates the full range of demands and situations that slaves experienced, and the mistreatment that they experienced as well. Jacobs experienced the ongoing sexual harassment from James Norcom, just like numerous slave women experienced sexual abuse or harassment during the slave era. Another issue that faced blacks was the incompetence of the white slave owners and people. In ...

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...f Jacobs’s narrative is the sexual exploitation that she, as well as many other slave women, had to endure. Her narrative focuses on the domestic issues that faced African-American women, she even states, “Slavery is bad for men, but it is far more terrible for women”. Therefore, gender separated the two narratives, and gave each a distinct view toward slavery.

Douglass showed “how a slave became a man” in a physical fight with an overseer and the travel to freedom. Jacobs’s gender determined a different course, and how women were affected. Douglass and Jacob’s lives might seem to have moved in different directions, but it is important not to miss the common will that their narratives proclaim of achieving freedom. They never lost their determination to gain not only freedom from enslavement but also the respect for their individual humanity and the other slaves.
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