Real writing, soul writing is dangerous; there is an intrinsic, gut-churning element of risk within the process of telling the truth, a risk that yields an adrenaline rush that parallels skydiving and skinny-dipping. The thrill of one's own truth displayed nakedly in little black letters on a white page is scary and beautiful, both chaining and freeing. The issue for authors, like skydivers, is that after they jump out of the plane (start writing) the fears don't disappear. The diver-author asks herself, "Should I really be doing this... What if my parachute doesn't work... What if I'm misunderstood?" Harriet Jacobs and John Edgar Wideman undergo this free-fall, these fears. In the telling of their stories, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Jacobs) and Our Time (Wideman), each author is self-conscious. Both authors tell about a minority in their stories; Jacobs speaks of the female slave and Wideman speaks of the African-American gangster. Because they tell the story of a minority to a majority, they can't afford to be misunderstood. They also can't afford to write solely in metaphors because they not only must prove their competence through reserved analysis but also must appeal to the hearts and minds of their audience.
The authors must bring middle class white readers as close to the slave plantation or the Ghetto or the prison cell as possible. For this reason, both authors refer to the reader with questions. This rhetorical device forces the reader to place herself in the situation of the main character. For example, when discussing the abuse she took from her master, Dr. flint, Jacobs asks, "But where could I turn for protection?"(47...
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...nd unresolved, not because the authors are incompetent, but because the issues that they write about don't have resolutions. The readers are left with the same frustration as the authors. Past can't be erased, roles can't be traded, and sympathy can't be transformed into empathy. But the sheer act of writing and publishing their stories is a resolution. While to jump off the plane is terrifying, and wind stings the face as one falls, once on the ground the writer can find resolution purely in the explanation itself, even if it ends unresolved.
Jacobs, Harriet. "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl." The Classic Slave Narratives. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Mentor, 1987.
Wideman, John Edgar. "Our Time" excerpted in Ways of Reading (4th edition), David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, eds. (Boston: Bedford Books, 1996).
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