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Slavery and the Life of Harriet Jacobs

Good Essays
Slavery and the Life of Harriet Jacobs

It is well known that slavery was a horrible event in the history of the United States. However, what isn't as well known is the actual severity of slavery. The experiences of slave women presented by Angela Davis and the theories of black women presented by Patricia Hill Collins are evident in the life of Harriet Jacobs and show the severity of slavery for black women.

The history of slave women offered by Davis suggests that "compulsory labor overshadowed every other aspect of women's existence" (Davis 5). This is quite apparent through examination of the life of Harriet Jacobs. All slaves were forced to do hard labor and were subject to cruel remarks by whites, in this sense they were genderless, except women endured much more foul treatment. Harriet Jacobs was forced to listen to the sexual berating from her master, Dr. Flint, as well as receive jealous scorn from her mistress, Mrs. Flint. Yet worse than the verbal abuse was the physical, sexual abuse imposed on slave women. "Naming or not naming the father of a child, taking as a wife a woman who had children by unnamed fathers, [and] giving a newborn child the name of a father" were all considered by Herbert Gutman to be "everyday choices" in slave communities (Davis 15). Not being able to name a father must have made slave women feel great pain from being a "genderless" tool and great isolation by forcing them to take care of bastard children on their own. However, the worst comes when the child is old enough to work and, in most cases, is auctioned off. By auctioning off a slave woman's children slave masters not only dehumanized slave women but gave additional pain to slave women by taking their loved children away. Slave...

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...brother. These past three points all serve as examples of the severity of slavery for women.

The U.S. slave system has placed African American women at a disadvantage for hundreds of years. It's atrocious to think this kind of thing could ever be allowed to happen. Even worse is to the reality that it wouldn't be that way if people truly believed in equality. Women were owned in every aspect, not merely free labor. Their minds, bodies, and souls were pushed to the limits and Harriet Jacobs is an example of this being true.

Works Cited

Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000

Davis, Angela. The Legacy Of Slavery: Standards For A New Womanhood.

Jacobs, Harriet, and Yellin, Jean. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press