The Use Of Slavery In Harriet Jacobs Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl?

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In Harriet Jacobs’ autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, personal accounts that detail the ins-and-outs of the system of slavery show readers truly how monstrous and oppressive slavery is. Families are torn apart, lives are ruined, and slaves are tortured both physically and mentally. The white slaveholders of the South manipulate and take advantage of their slaves at every possible occasion. Nothing is left untouched by the gnarled claws of slavery: even God and religion become tainted. As Jacobs’ account reveals, whites control the religious institutions of the South, and in doing so, forge religion as a tool used to perpetuate slavery, the very system it ought to condemn. The irony exposed in Jacobs’ writings serves to show…show more content…
They are fully cognizant that having the word of God on their side affords them even more power over their slaves, and they use this knowledge as a channel through which slave behavior may be controlled. “After the alarm caused by Nat Turner’s insurrection had subsided, the slaveholders came to the conclusion that is would be well to give the slaves enough of religious instruction to keep them from murdering their masters” (Jacobs 57). This passage is the first to demonstrate whites using religion itself as an oppressive force. Plans are revealed to, “hold a separate service on Sundays for [the slaves’] benefit,” in which pointed sermons were to be delivered to the slaves (Jacobs 57-58). One such sermon is inherently accusatory and meant to instill fear in its slave audience. Statements such as “God is angry with you,” “You tell lies. God hears you,” and “God sees you and will punish you” serve to foster a sense of guilt and fear within the slaves, casting disobedience in any form as an affront against God, one that merits divine punishment (Jacobs 58). The sermon creates an emotional tie to profitable slave behavior – obedience stemming from fear – which it goes on to enforce as the will of God: “If you disobey your earthly Master,” the preacher claims, “you offend your heavenly Master” (Jacobs 58). What is presented to the slaves as religious tenet is merely…show more content…
The irony in this lies in the slaveholder’s intentions: they themselves are motivated by fear. They fear a society in which they no longer serve to benefit from slave labor, and so they fear rebellion, they fear objection, they fear events like the Nat Turner Insurrection. The system the slaveholders strive so ardently to protect begins to affect even them, those in power, negatively. They begin to cope with their fear the only way they know how, by projecting it upon the slaves. When the slaveholders transfer this fear by corrupting something even they revere, religion, slavery’s perversive power is shown in horrifying clarity. The slaveholders will stop at nothing, they will leave nothing untouched and unsoiled if it means the preservation of slavery. Slavery isn’t just a physical and mental burden upon the slaves it imprisons; it is a moral burden on the entire society in which it
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