Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Although Mary Wollstonecraft and Harriet Jacobs lived almost 300 years apart from one

another, the basic undercurrent of both of their work is the same. Wollstonecraft was a feminist

before her time and Jacobs was a freed slave who wanted more than just her own freedom.

Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Jacobs’ Incidents In the Life of a

Slave Girl, Written By Herself were both revolutionary texts that were meant to inspire change

and the liberation of a group of people. For Wollstonecraft, this was women; for Jacobs, it was

the slaves. On the surface, these two works do not seem to be much related, but it is in this theme

of liberation that they are deeply connected. Even though these very different women were

writing in two very different worlds, they both still manage to get across the idea that it is in the

tyranny of slavery, mentally or physically, that one’s true self is lost. The oppression of a person's

free will through the tyranny of slavery or absence of women's rights are virtually the same thing:

they both suppress a person's natural identity and the only way to liberation is through the

education and humanization of those being oppressed.

The first key idea in both Wollstonecraft’s and Jacobs’ texts is that women and slaves are

only defined by those who own them, they cannot define themselves. Both women write of the

dehumanization that slaves and women experience. Wollstonecraft says that women in her time

are simply objects of desire, instructed to play the feminine role, “...enfeebled by false


... middle of paper ... a person of all dignity and humanity, all

free-will gone. In both cases it is impossible to deny the implications for a loss of identity. If a

person is stripped of choice, denied an education, and trained to live within the false restrictions

of society, is impossible for them to have an identity.

Works Cited

Jacobs, Harriet. “Incidents In the Life of A Slave Girl, Written By Herself.” The Pearson Custom

Library of American Literature. Ed. John Bryant et al. Compiled for English 370B,

Spring 2005. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2003. Pages 418-77.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. “A Vindication on the Rights of Woman.” The Longman Anthology of

British Literature: Volume 2A- The Romantics and Their Contemporaries. Ed. Susan

Wolfson and Peter Manning. New York: Longman, 2003. Pages 230-257.
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