Slave women, more than free women, experienced the woes of losing children. Infant mortality was exceedingly high in slave populations because of the harsh conditions that the mother experienced during pregnancy (Roberts, 1998: 14). The slave women’s personal well-being often conflicted with their role as mothers. Additionally, a slave woman’s children were usually weaknesses that the slave owners would exploit. “[C]hildren tied mothers to their masters,” prevented them from running away, lured escaped women back to the slave owners, or pushed women into greater submission
However, Ironically Harriet believes these fortunes were actually her curse. The fact that she was well kept and light skinned as well as being attractive lead to her victimization as a sexual object. Consequently, Harriet became a prospective concubine for Dr. Norcom. She points out that life under slavery was as bad as any slave could hope for. Harriet talks about her life as slave by saying, ?You never knew what it is to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of chattel, entirely subject to the will of another.?
“ she gathered the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful” for Sethe to allow her children to be taken back to a life of slavery would be taking away everything that she gave “life” to and to destroy all that’s good in her world. . Toni Morrison shows in clear depth the struggles slave women had in loving their children and how the right to be mother was stolen from them. She uses Sethe as a symbol to show how strong Motherhood truly is. Despite, slavery preventing Mothers the right to care for and nurture their children.
With sexual abuse and fear of losing their children, slave women are being psychologically tortured and unable to achieve fulfillment in their lives. Jacobs’s account of the mental and psychological difficulties that women slaves face can best be described when she explains her feelings when having a daughter, “Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own” (119).
In Jacobs’ experience, mistresses often felt jealous or insecure of their husbands relations to their female slaves, and because of this were absolved of any feelings of female solidarity. The lives of black female slaves were so intolerable that Jacobs felt upset at bringing another into this life, yet despite all she suffered, Harriet Jacobs’ pride as a woman and mother allowed her and her will to persevere in the face of overwhelming difficulty. As enslaved women are not quite as present to the same degree as they used to be, at least in the United States, it is not simple for a person today to gain an empathetic understanding of life as a slave woman.
White women are idealized as pure, angelic, and chaste while black woman are idealized as exotic and contained an uncontrollable, savage sexuality. Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, brought the sexual oppression of captive black women into the public and political arena. Harriet Jacobs takes a great risk writing her trials as a house servant in the south and a fugitive in the north. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl gives a true account of the brutality slavery held for women. A perspective that was relatively secretive during Jacobs’ time.
Slaveholders would often rape and impregnate their slave women, and then never let the women care for their mixed children. Actions like this contribute to prostitution today, yet people still do not consider prostitution a form of slavery. These truths are tangible today due to African American authors Susie King Taylor and Kate Stone. Thankfully, white abolitionist women such as Ida B. Wells and Mary Chesnut were around to stand up for slaves and women.
The lives of female slaves were a little more trying than that of a male slave. This is partly due to the sexual harassment, which slave women must endure. Sexual relationships between masters and female slaves were very common on the plantation during the eighteenth century. These forced sexual relationships often began with cruel beatings before the slave would submit to savage rapes. Out of fear of pain or death, female slaves had no other alternative but to obey their masters.
In her story, she reveals that slavery is terrible for men but, is more so dreadful for women. In addition woman bore being raped by their masters, as well as their children begin sold into slavery. All of this experience
In “The Trial of Girlhood” and “A Perilous Passage In the Slave Girl’s Life” Jacobs’s narrative emphasizes the problems that are faced by female slaves. She shares the sexual abuses that are commonly practiced by slave master against young female slaves. She does this through revealing the unique humiliation and the brutalities that were inflicted upon young slave girls. In this narrative we come to understand the psychological damage caused by sexual harassment. We also realize how this sexual harassment done by the slaveholders went against morality and “violated the most sacred commandment of nature,”(Harriet 289)as well as fundamental religious beliefs.